Live at Peace with Everyone

“Live at Peace with Everyone”

Rom 12-18 if possible, peace - words

Romans 12:9-21 (12:18) – September 17, 2017

One of the most heartwarming books I have read in the past few decades is a book by Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. I would like to read a few sentences from this book.

“These are the things I learned (in Kindergarten): 1. Share everything. 2. Play fair. 3. Don’t hit people. 4. Put things back where you found them. 5. CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS. 6. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. 7. Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody. 8. Wash your hands before you eat. 9. Flush. 10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. 11. Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work every day some. 12. Take a nap every afternoon. 13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.” [1]

As we listen to this list of things Robert Fulghum brings to our attention, what goes through our heads? Are we charmed by the memories of little ones that come to mind? Or, do we think of the significant truths that come from our kindergarten friends?

As I was considering our Scripture reading this week from Romans, I immediately thought of Robert Fulghum’s book, and specifically this quote. If we set these two lists side by side, each list sounds like it is full of important things. Full of important tasks to accomplish on a regular, if not daily basis.

One thing that people who are very interested in bible translation do when they are looking at specific sentences or paragraphs is the look at the kinds of words that are used, and whether the writer had something special he was trying to get across. In the case of Romans 12, the Apostle Paul is using a lot of verbs, and most of these are imperative verbs. These are all commands to his fellow believers in Rome! Not just suggestions, or recommendations.

“Rather, [Paul’s] exhortations speak to any community patterning its life after that of the crucified and risen Christ. The words are a window on what life in Christ looks like in community.” [2]

Yes, in this American culture, the rugged individual pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, living their life all alone, on the edge, is so important to so many. BUT, the Apostle Paul reminds us that life is to be lived in a community. There are no Lone Ranger Christians. “One is tempted to imagine Paul saying with his syntax, “Don’t try this alone.” His advice is addressed to a bunch of people, and much of it concerns their shared life.” [3]

This piece of advice holds true whether for a group of secular people as well as for a church congregation. A short negative summary of these commands is “Do not do any evil to anyone:” If we turn that around (as Robert Fulghum does) and speak positively, we find that it sounds suspiciously like his list from All I Really Wanted to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten.

There is a problem with these lists, no matter whether the Apostle Paul wrote about these commands or whether Robert Fulghum urges us to follow his positive suggestions  A big problem. No matter how much we may be trying to follow Jesus in our daily lives, hypocrisy and insincerity sneak up on all of us and clobber us over the head.

Sadly, we have many, many people with extreme black-and-white thinking, from all areas, from all cultures. These modern-day Pharisees talk about either totally sinning, or totally following God without reservation, and there is nothing at all in between. They bash others over the head with these commands in this list from Romans 12 (and from other lists that Paul writes in other places in the New Testament).

The preacher Kwasi Kena brings us an illustration. “Any bank teller knows that spotting counterfeit money first requires that one knows what is genuine. After repeated exposure to what is genuine, the bank teller can easily spot the counterfeit item. It is the same with genuine Christian love. Constant exposure to genuine Christian love builds a growing desire for more. That yearning for the genuine also produces repulsion toward the counterfeit.” [4]

Yes, we might be able to see blatant insincerity and hypocrisy and counter it, gently, in Christian love. What does Paul tell us, first thing? He says love above all is the way to go. When we are dissatisfied with our own lives or the lives of others, this can be an indication that something is not right. When some Pharisees start judging and self-righteously shaking their fingers at us, and get in our faces with extreme black-and-white thinking, and extreme shaming, what then? Sorrow for them might happen in our hearts. We can point them out immediately.

As Kwasi Kena tells us, the seasoned bank teller—or, the committed Christian who is loving, caring, generous and kind in his or her dealings with others can spot hypocrisy and insincerity from a mile away. The Apostle Paul’s message urges us to embrace genuine love through Jesus Christ, whether individually or in community. And, even embrace these self-righteous, judgmental ones.

“Mutual love and honour or respect is fundamental to good community (12:10). There is no room for exploitation of any kind. Nor is there room for shaming behaviour. We are to be free from having to win (by making others into losers). Paul urges a positive attitude in 12:11. For Paul this is less about rules of behaviour and more about choosing to believe in hope.” [5]

Over the past several decades Robert Fulghum wrote six books, all New York Times bestsellers, and still popular today. He has a master’s degree in theology and has also been a minister in the Unitarian Church for several decades. I consider his words about kindergarteners (and the rest of us human beings) to be so incredibly important for our search for genuine love, caring, kindness and reaching out to others, in the name of God.

From Rev.Fulghum again: “Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or your government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if we all—the whole world—had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess.” [6]

I think the Apostle Paul would approve of Rev. Fulghum’s words. What was one of the summary statements of Paul’s words of wisdom from Romans 12? “17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

It does not matter whether we look at Robert Fulghum’s wise words or at the words of wisdom from Romans 12: care about each other. Love one another. No matter what, no matter where, no matter who. Individually, and in a community.

Let us allow Rev. Fulghum to have the last word for today: “And it is still true, no matter how old you are—when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and to stick together.”[7]

Alleluia, amen.

 

[1] Fulghum, Robert, All I Really Wanted to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, (New York: Ballantine Books, 1986),

[2] Commentary on Romans 12:9-21, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1060   Mary Hinkle Shore

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/book-of-romans-sermon-starters-week-14

Book of Romans, Sermon Starters—Week 14 , Evangelistic Preaching Helps for the Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost, Year A– September 3, 2017 by Kwasi Kena

[5] http://wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/AEpPentecost12.htm “First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary,” Pentecost 12, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia

[6] Fulghum, Robert, All I Really Wanted to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, (New York: Ballantine Books, 1986),

[7] Ibid.

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God Wants Me to Change?

“God Wants Me to Change?”

Rom 12-2 be transformed, words

Romans 12:1-2 (12:2) – September 10, 2017

The date of September 11th is a significant date to remember. Just as many people remember where they were on November 22, 1963, the date John F. Kennedy was assassinated, so, too, many people remember where they were on September 11, 2001, when planes flew into buildings, and horror upon horror was seen on televisions and video monitors around the world..

When we think of the inhumanity that people display—people who assassinate a national leader, or who cold-bloodedly kill dozens, or even hundreds of their fellow human beings—man’s inhumanity to man can leave our jaws hanging open, shaking our heads in disbelief.

We are horrified when we think about such things. I am sorry to bring this up, but Romans, the book of the New Testament from which our Scripture reading comes, has some very bad news in it. All of us fall short of what God wants for us. All of us miss the mark, as far as God is concerned. As Romans 3:11 tells us, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one seeks after God.” We are all self-centered, not God-centered.

However, the book of Romans also has some very good news! The Apostle Paul says we are not deserted in such a hopeless situation. No! “The message of [the book of] Romans is that sin’s mastery over humankind has been broken in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” [1] We all know that the wages of sin is death—death, meaning separation from God forever. But the free gift of God is eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ! Those are the blessed words of Romans 6:23!

I wanted to remind everyone about this difference, this separation that the Apostle Paul tells us about, us and the Roman believers. Here, on this side, is the BEFORE side. Life without God. Life is really bad news! Eternal darkness, and separation from God, forever. Here, on the other side, is the AFTER side. Life with Christ, and life eternally in God’s presence and light.

Just in case anyone is wondering exactly how we develop a relationship with Christ, we tell our Lord Jesus that we have sinned. We are truly sorry, we confess our sins to Him, and ask Him to forgive us. The best part? He will forgive us, freely! No strings attached. And then, we will enter into the best relationship we will ever have in our lives—true friendship with God.

Thanks be to God that we are accepted through our Lord Jesus Christ, and as Romans 8 tells us, nothing—in the whole universe—can separate us from the love of God!

That, in a nutshell, is the message of the first half of the letter to the Romans. But, now that we are in Christ, now what? What do we do now? How shall we then live? These first two verses of Romans chapter 12 hit home. Paul gives us several strong commands.

Let’s read Romans 12:1 again from that wonderful modern translation by Eugene Peterson, “The Message.” “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.”

We were just asking, now that I—you—all of us believe in Jesus, confess our sins, and are welcomed by God into the family of God, what next? Right here, Paul tells us. Paul wants us to place our whole lives before God as our offering.

Did you know the Jewish people in Israel (before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, that is) sacrificed all kinds of things at the Temple, often? That was a requirement for being obedient to God, for being a fine, upstanding Jew. There were thank offerings, and guilt offerings, offerings for forgiveness and for harvest time, wave offerings, drink offerings, and animal offerings. Offerings on special occasions, and everyday offerings. There were enough animal, grain, wine, and other offerings to keep the many priests at the Temple in Jerusalem very busy, indeed! I’m not talking about only the Pharisees, but all of Israel. God expected offerings from everyone.

That was then—during the time of Jesus, and before. But, what about now? What kinds of offerings is Paul talking about? How do we bring offerings to God? I’ll say it again. Or rather, Paul will tell us, from Romans 12:1: “Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.”

A number of years ago, my children, my husband and I went to Michigan to see my in-laws. They decided we all should go to a really nice public garden, some distance away from their home. The public garden included a butterfly house. I don’t know whether anyone here has ever been to a butterfly house, but all different kinds and colors of butterflies fly around. Plus, there is a special section where the caterpillars make their cocoons and become a chrysalis. It takes some time, but finally they transform into a butterfly. My children just loved watching the butterflies flit around from flower to flower. I decided to sit still, and several butterflies came and landed on my arms. One even landed on my head.

Is there a difference between a caterpillar and a butterfly? I think we all would say, yes! Certainly! Is there a difference between the sinful us, and the forgiven us? I think so. That is what the Apostle Paul is getting at.

God is so pleased when we bring our whole selves to God. Before, our old selves were sinful, self-centered, and not doing or thinking or saying the things that pleased God. That sinful self is what the Apostle Paul talks about in the first half of this letter to the Romans! But now we have a relationship with God, we are being changed from the inside out. A complete change of our inner, spiritual selves, from being self-centered to God-centered!

A caterpillar changes or transforms into a butterfly. In the same way, “Paul speaks of radical inward change. The mind is key in the renewal process. The renewed mind is able to think, discern, and test what will please God instead of being deceived by sin.” [2]

Now, I need to let everyone know: this change is still happening. We are not completely sin-less. With God’s help, we sin less and less.

Sadly, the world we inhabit is still very much affected by sin. We can see that from natural disasters, like hurricanes, wild fires and earthquakes (to mention some catastrophic things happening in our world right now). Our fellow human beings are also very much affected by sin and self-involvement, self-centered fear and self-important egotism, focusing on their own issues to the neglect of any one or any thing else.

Which brings us full circle to what we started this sermon with: man’s inhumanity to man. It is not difficult to tick off on both hands the horrible things people do to other people. We can feel sadness for the sin we still have in our own lives, too. We can shake our heads, in sorrow and grief. And, yes, we can praise God that God is not finished with us yet!

As the Apostle Paul reminds us in our Scripture reading in Romans 12:2, “fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what God wants from you, and quickly respond to it.”

Does God want all of us to change? You bet! Each day we are becoming more and more changed into the likeness of our Lord Jesus. We can all say “amen!” to that.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1038

Commentary, Romans 12:1-8, Mary Hinkle Shore,, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

[2] Chesser, Dawn  – Director of Preaching Ministries, https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/book-of-romans-sermon-starters-week-13

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Compassion? Go and Do Likewise

“Compassion? Go and Do Likewise”

Luke 10-37 good-samaritan, line drawing

Luke 10:25-37 (10:37) – September 3, 2017

A good number of years ago, my husband and I attended a large church. This church had a great number of activities, classes and ministries. One of the classes that I enjoyed attending was one particular adult Sunday school class. In this class, there were a number of middle-aged and older adults, some of whom really enjoyed discussing and arguing together about the finer points of the Bible. Some of these people were really knowledgeable about Scripture, about archeology and about ancient culture, and they could argue their points to beat the band. Did I mention that a number of them were lawyers?  People who were well trained to argue and press their points firmly. Even pouncing upon and verbally trapping their adversaries.

While I enjoyed this verbal sparring on occasion, this got a bit tiresome. Instead of huddling together, talking among ourselves inside a church classroom, I wanted to go out into the community and talk with others about the love of God. I wanted to show people how much God loves them.

That’s the situation in the Gospel of Luke. The Rabbi Jesus was having another one of His religious conversations, about the finer points of the Mosaic Law Code. Yes, Jesus knew the Law of Moses backwards and forwards. He knew the Hebrew Scriptures intimately. Yet, so did many of the religious leaders who asked Jesus question after question. Especially this religious lawyer who asked Jesus several questions. I believe this lawyer was well trained to argue and press his points firmly. Even pouncing upon and verbally trapping his adversaries.

I love this compassion series that I have been using for our summer sermon series. The Illustrated Children’s Ministry has done a tremendous job of translating the weekly Bible passages into an understandable story that anyone can understand. I bet we all know passages from the Bible that are so difficult. Not these Scripture passages! These Bible translations are straightforward so that anyone from 5 to 95 can easily understand them.

Let’s listen to the beginning of Luke 10, starting at verse 25: “A man who knew a whole lot about religious laws came to Jesus with a question. He said, “Teacher, how do I really, truly, live with God?”

“Jesus asked him, “Well, what does God’s law say? How do you understand it?” The man answered him, “It says to love God, completely—with heart and soul and strength and mind—and to love your neighbor like your own self.” And Jesus said to him, “That’s it! Do that, and you’ll have the life you’re asking about.”

That’s the initial question the lawyer asks. How does he—how do we—really, truly, live with God? Jesus responds with the question, “What does God’s law say?”

I recently preached a sermon about this all-important two-part law: we love God completely, the vertical part of love, and we love our neighbor like our own selves, the horizontal part of love. That is distilling all of God’s many commands in the Bible down to the foundation, the very core of what God expects from us. That two-part command is enough for another sermon. Indeed, many sermons have been preached on this bible verse!

But, wait, there’s more. The religious lawyer wasn’t done with the Rabbi Jesus yet. He goes a step further, and asks another question. I am not certain whether he wanted to trick Jesus, and make Him trip up verbally, or whether the lawyer felt really convicted, and wanted to justify himself.

What does our Scripture passage say? “Still wondering, the man asked, “But who exactly is my neighbor?” And in response, Jesus told this story.”

We all know the story of the Good Samaritan. A certain man—an anonymous, undefined man, so we are not sure where he fit in the social order—this man was beaten up and left for dead while he was traveling. He is identified only by what happened to him.

Two fellow travelers came upon him, on the side of the road. One was a priest, an important religious man. He looked at the hurt guy from a distance, and then turned and went on his way. The second was a Levite, another important lay leader at a synagogue. He also looked at the hurt guy from a distance. He, too, crossed to the other side of the road and passed by the guy who was lying in a ditch.

Both of these men were upstanding leaders in their communities. Both of them had significant stature. Both of them neglected this poor guy who was obviously in need of help. We are not told why, just that both of these very important people stopped, noticed the guy who was beaten up, and passed by on the other side of the road.

Now, the third man to pass by was a Samaritan. I don’t know whether you are aware of the fear and even hatred the Jewish people had for Samaritans. Think back a number of decades. Can anyone remember the fear and animosity parts of this country had for black people? How Jim Crow laws were firmly in place in large parts of the South? Let’s go back to World War II, and the perceptions of Germans, Italians, and Japanese in the United States. There was a great fear and animosity for these groups of people.

Now you might better understand the fear and hatred the Jewish people had for these half-breed Samaritans, supposed traitors to the people of Israel.

The third person to come upon the hurt man in Jesus’s story? He was indeed a Samaritan, and he did something none of Jesus’s listeners would expect. The Samaritan was kind to the hurt man.  As commentator David Lose tells us, “the Samaritan instead goes to him, and becomes vulnerable in that closeness. How often are we frightened to come close to others simply because we do not want to bear their pain, to be open to their need?” [1]

Most of the people listening to this story would have been enemies to the Samaritans, since Jews and Samaritans did not get along. How do you imagine the people Jesus was talking to felt when they heard this story of a Samaritan reaching out to help a Jew? Can we take this shocking story and move it to the present day? Are we shocked when we see a newspaper article or television news story about an observant Muslim man helping an elderly Orthodox Jew who has fallen and hurt himself on a busy sidewalk?

Again, are we frightened to come close to others simply because we are afraid of being open to their need? To their pain?

The Samaritan showed compassion by binding up the hurt man’s wounds, taking him to an inn and paying for the hurt man to stay there and recuperate. Compassion, indeed, is sympathy put into action. As I have been preaching each week this summer, God wants each of us to show compassion to others. Be kind, show mercy, be sympathetic. Just like the Samaritan.

We need to look at the end of the story from Luke 10. Then Jesus asked, “Who became a neighbor to the man who was attacked?” And the man with the questions said, “The one who had compassion for him.” Jesus said, “Go. Do that.”

I can just see the religious lawyer, shocked that the hated Samaritan is the good guy in this story of the Rabbi Jesus. His answer in response to “who became the neighbor?” The lawyer couldn’t even say “the Samaritan,” so he said “the one who had compassion.” Jesus speaks to us, just as strongly as He spoke to that lawyer so long ago. We are to have compassion, in exactly the same way.

“No one is beyond the reach of God’s love. No one. And so Jesus brings this home by choosing the most unlikely of characters to serve as the instrument of God’s mercy and grace and exemplify Christ-like behavior. That’s what God does: God chooses people no one expects and does amazing things through them. Even a Samaritan. Even our people. Even me. Even you.” [2]

What does Jesus say to the lawyer? What does Jesus say to us, today? “Go. Do that.” “Go, and do likewise.”

 

[1] http://www.davidlose.net/2016/07/pentecost-8-c-the-god-we-didnt-expect/  “The God We Didn’t Expect,” David Lose, in the Meantime, 2016.

[2] http://www.davidlose.net/2016/07/pentecost-8-c-the-god-we-didnt-expect/  “The God We Didn’t Expect,” David Lose, in the Meantime, 2016.

(A heartfelt thank you to An Illustrated Compassion: Learning to Love Like God. Many of these sermon ideas and thoughts came directly from this series.  I appreciate this intergenerational curriculum, which is the basis for my summer sermon series on compassion. This curriculum comes from Illustrated Children’s Ministry. Thanks so much for such great ideas!)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Compassion = Just, Kind, Humble

“Compassion = Just, Kind, Humble”

Micah 6-8 word cloud

Micah 6:6-8 – August 27, 2017

Familiar things, familiar words. Even familiar bible verses. When we see or hear familiar things—like a familiar family member, a familiar couch or chair, a familiar saying or expression our best friend says—what goes through our minds? Do we take it in? Do we pay attention? Do we understand that what we are seeing or hearing is important? Or, do we just dismiss it?

Do we dismiss a loved one who just happens to live with us because she or he is always underfoot? Do we even hear an expression from a friend because he or she says it all the time? Or, does familiarity encourage us to ignore the loved one, the sayings, or expressions?

Can this happen to familiar bible verses, too? I am thinking now of John 3:16. Can that beloved verse become so familiar, so same-old, same-old, that it has absolutely no power in our lives or hearts? What about some other super-familiar Scripture verses, too? What about them? What happens to our sensibilities now, now that I have highlighted this important point?

Let’s take a closer look. When we hear the same old thing (even in a bible verse) repeated over and over, week after week, our ears can stop hearing it. It might make some people sick and tired, or bored to tears. We can say, “yeah, yeah,” and ignore it. Go on our merry way. As bible commentator Tyler Mayfield said, “There is a danger to familiarity. The familiar can be overlooked or neglected.” [1]

We have for our Scripture passage today one of the most familiar commands from the Lord, ever. Micah 6:6-8. I will read it in the straight-forward modern translation for all ages provided for us by the Illustrated Children’s Ministry. Starting at verse 6: “How can I even begin to approach God? How can I honor who God is? What gift could I bring, what sacrifice could I make? Would God like it if I made offerings like those made in the past—rams, oil, or whatever is most precious? Does God want me to give up what means the world to me?”

That translation puts a new, different twist on things, doesn’t it?

In this chapter of Micah, the people of Israel pose several questions, and this one is a biggie. How can we even begin to approach the awesome God who made heaven and earth? Isn’t God huger than huge, more righteous and holy than anything else in the entire universe? How can you or I possibly bring anything to God that would please this Holy One?

As Dr. Mayfield says, the central issue with all of these questions concerns the gift, the sacrifice. “What is it, O God, that you want from us? What do you require? Just tell us your favorite offering, and we will surely sacrifice it—even if it is a rather extreme request.” [2]

This is a rhetorical question, of sorts. Micah follows it up with God’s response, in this very familiar verse, Micah 6:8. Is it “same old, same old,” or do you think we ought to sit up and pay attention? After all, this is a verse that lets us know God’s own requirements of how to come to God, this Holy One who made heaven and earth. Listen to this very familiar verse.

The prophet says: “No, listen, people, we already know the answer to this one.  God has told us, this is what counts; this is the compassionate life God wants for us: that we would do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly, together with God.

Let’s turn to the playground and the schoolroom. What do you think children value? What are ways they like to be treated when they are together? Do you think children want things to be fair and equal in the classroom? Do they want people to be kind to them when they are in line at the store, or at the restaurant, or at home? And what about showing respect to other people? Do children want others to show them respect and courtesy on the playground, school, in the mall, or on the sidewalk? What about at home, too? These are important questions, since they not only apply to children, these questions apply to each of us. Every day.

“That’s not fair! He got more! She cut in line! They shoved me! That’s not fair!” Sound familiar? Does it sound like children bickering at home? This is exactly what the prophet Micah mentions, right off the bat. He tells us that God wants us—all of us—to act justly. And, to remind all of us, justice means fairness. Making things right. Got integrity? Do you act in an upright manner? That is exactly what God wants us—all of us—to do.

But, wait a moment! I know we have been through this before, but I thought the people of Israel were eager to know what kinds of stuff they could offer to God.

I can hear the conversations now: “Just tell me, I’m ready to bring the special animal offerings! I’ll bring really expensive stuff, Lord. Just tell me what it is that You want me to bring!” The problem is, the Lord may not give the answer the people expect. In fact, it is not the answer they seek. They have focused on expensive animals and special oils and fine wine offerings—small and large. The people of Israel have over-emphasized super-special sacrifices, and showy gifts in worship; they have ignored justice and kindness to others. [3]

Do you think children want other people to be kind to them? What about us? Do we want others to show care and consideration toward us? Let’s go even further. Being humble is a difficult concept for children to understand. (Gee, sometimes it’s difficult for me to understand!) However, being respectful is simpler to understand. Do I want others to be respectful to me? Just as important, am I—are you—respectful and courteous to others, no matter what? No matter who they are, and no matter where they come from, which side of the tracks they live on, or what they smell like, or who they vote for?

As we can see, Micah “turns the questions asked in verses 6-7 away from their focus on the types of offerings and toward a focus on the type of person. God does not want a specific type of offering. God wants a specific type of person.” [4]

Are you that type of person, the type God wants? Someone who regularly does just things with integrity? Someone who loves kindness and mercy and does kind and merciful things for others, regularly? What about someone who walks humbly, and is respectful and courteous to others, no matter what?

I think the prophet Micah would say that this is a truly compassionate life.

I wonder what this kind of life looks like, in our setting, here in the Chicago suburbs? How do you imagine this kind of life looks in our world today?

The prophet says our life is a journey, and we walk with the Lord, each day. We walk with integrity, in kindness, and we walk humbly. Imagine God is asking you to do one thing this week that would bring more compassion to those around you.

What would our lives look like if we lived like this? Would other people stop short in their tracks and say, “That person definitely is kind!” “That person goes out of her way to help people!” “That person certainly values the newcomer.” “That person displays genuine integrity, for sure!” I challenge all of us: choose one (or more) of these attributes each day for a week, and live it out.

Act justly—with integrity. Do kindness and mercy. Walk humbly with our God, showing compassion to all we meet. And, guess what? This is the way to truly please God.

Let those with ears to hear, let them hear. Amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3152 ; Dr. Tyler Mayfield, Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky.

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3152

[3] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3152

[4] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3152

(A heartfelt thank you to An Illustrated Compassion: Learning to Love Like God. Many of these sermon ideas and thoughts came directly from this series.  I appreciate this intergenerational curriculum, which is the basis for my summer sermon series on compassion. This curriculum comes from Illustrated Children’s Ministry. Thanks so much for such great ideas!)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Compassion with Our Welcome

“Compassion with Our Welcome”

Deut 10-19 words

Deuteronomy 10:18-19 – August 20, 2017

The world today is a divided place, even here in the United States. There are so any divisions in society happening recently. Arguments, inflamed rhetoric, serious disagreements—and this is just between family members and acquaintances. Then, to escalate matters even further, many people of sincere beliefs and good conscience are finding themselves on opposite sides of serious matters, like immigration, the movement of people groups, and the safe passage of refugees and migrants.

What are we to make of such things?  More importantly, what does the Lord tell us in the Bible that we are to do about immigrants, refugees and migrants? More on this important topic, a little later in the sermon.

I also want to tell you all about the Family Peace Fest yesterday outside of the Civic Center. Frankly, I was nervous and anxious about this event. Or, more specifically, about the potential weather on the day of the Family Peace Fest.

However, God took care of all of my fears and anxiety. Yesterday was a gorgeous day, the weather couldn’t have been better, and this turned out to be a wonderful event at the Civic Center at Harrer Park on Dempster! We not only raised up peace, hope and harmony in Morton Grove and the surrounding neighborhoods, but we showed everyone who attended that our multi-ethnic, multi-cultural community could gather together, laugh, learn, and enjoy each other’s company. We also showed the Chicago area and the world that this diverse community lifts up peace as one of our most prized values.

We continue with our summer sermon series on compassion. This week, we are considering a reading from Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Hebrew scriptures. Here we are looking closely at some words of Moses to the large number of Jewish people, at the end of forty years of wandering in the Sinai desert and wilderness.

Moses also said a great many things that make a great deal of sense, especially from our Hebrew scripture reading today. From Deuteronomy 10: “Hey, people, what is it God wants from you? Just this: your reverence, your faithfulness, your love, your dedication, and for you to obey the commandments. They’re for your own good.”

Moses gave the Jewish tribes a whole lot of instructions, rules, and commands. Let’s take a close look at his commands for this people. They had strict duties and responsibilities to God and to other people. What was it Moses said again? Just this: God wants our reverence, our faithfulness, our love, our dedication, and for us to obey the commandments.

Right here is a summary statement of all of the laws, rules and commands Moses gave in Deuteronomy, the second giving of the Law. We’ve talked a few months ago about summary statements Jesus gave in the Gospels for what God wants from us, above all. Well, here is a brief summary from Moses about the exact same thing. What God wants, above all.

Going on, in our Scripture: “All the sky and all the stars belong to God, the earth and everything in it, and listen: God chose you—your people, your ancestors and your children—you! Do not cut yourself off from God; soften your heart. God is above all, but concerned for those who have nothing, caring for those who are stranded and alone, providing for them.”

What is this? Moses is now departing from a simple summary statement of what God wants from us into specific waters: Moses says God is concerned for “those who have nothing, caring for those who are stranded and alone, providing for them.”

Can you imagine some of the situations that may cause people to leave their homeland and go to a new place? We can just imagine some of the positive things. Economic opportunities, or better living conditions. Then, there are negative situations. Wars and conflict, perhaps famine or drought, earthquakes, fires, and other catastrophic events. These situations might come out of nowhere and knock people off their feet and destroy their homes.

Sometimes little is left except to migrate, to become refugees or immigrants, sometimes traveling a long, long way.

I saw a meme on the computer a few days ago. It said: “Your car is German, your vodka is Russian, your pizza is Italian. Your kebab is Turkish, your democracy is Greek, your coffee is Brazilian. Your tea is Tamil, your shirt is Indian, your oil is from Saudi Arabia. Your electronics are Chinese, your numbers are Arabic, your letters are Latin. And you complain that your neighbor is an immigrant?” [1]

As many memes do, this one uses ironic statements to get the point across. My blogging friend (and Registered Nurse) Marilyn Gardiner wrote a post just a few days ago about this very thing. Let’s hear what she has to say about this meme in her own words.

“While the meme is about things, I began to think about all the people in my life who are immigrants. As I made the list, I started to laugh. It’s unlikely I could function without them.

My doctor is from Jamaica, my surgeon is from Greece, my hairdresser is from Albania.

“I occasionally get my nails done by a woman from Vietnam; I buy fruit from a man from Albania. The advisory board members on a project that I am responsible for at work are from Syria, Iran, Algeria, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Iraq, and the Azores. A consultant who also works with the project is from Somalia. “My colleagues are from Portugal, the Azores, Brazil, Haiti, and Malawi – and that’s only a few of them.

“Daily I say hello to hotel employees from Guatemala, Haiti, and Egypt. The restaurant next to my work that sells excellent falafel and shwarma is owned by Iraqis. My friends at church are from Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Lebanon. Other regular friends in my life are from Pakistan, Israel, and Iran.

“What’s more, my maternal grandfather who died many years ago is from Poland….

“Every one of these people contribute positively to their communities and to the workforce, a fact that validates what studies have shown – that immigration has a positive effect on both economic growth and productivity.” [2]

Marilyn was a missionary kid, now living in Boston. She grew up in Pakistan, going to boarding school for years in the mountains away from her parents. So, she knows well the feelings of displacement, of not being home (wherever “home” is).

Turning back to our Scripture for the morning: “God is above all, but concerned for those who have nothing, caring for those who are stranded and alone, providing for them. You, too, remember when you were immigrants, strangers in Egypt—let that memory stir compassion in you for the strangers among you.”

All of us (even Native Americans, way far back) come from somewhere else. Even if you or I were born locally, our parents, grandparents, or ancestors further back hailed from somewhere else. At some point, we or our parents or our ancestors were alone, lonely, stranded, displaced, and missing “home,” wherever their “home” was.

Here in Deuteronomy, God gives a direct command: love the immigrant, the stranger, the migrant, the refugee. Have compassion for them. Love them. Care for them. (We were once immigrants, too.) Can it be any more direct?

Let us finish this reading: “Worship only God; hang on tightly to God; praise God; know that everything wonderful you have seen, God has done.”

What wonderful words from our God. Everything wonderful that we see every day? God is the author of it. God deserves our worship and praise, every day. We are urged here to hang on tightly to God!

God hangs on tightly to all people God has created. What is more, we know the Lord cares deeply for people who are the least powerful—especially women, children, and immigrants, as our Bible reading says. Can you imagine some reasons God shows extra care for them? Who are some immigrants and refugees you know of today? People in your life, or people you’ve heard of? What are some ways we can show compassion to immigrants in our lives and our community? What comes to your mind?

We showed love, caring and compassion for all people in our community yesterday, raising up peace at Harrer Park outside of the Civic Center, at the Family Peace Fest.

How can we show compassion? Be creative! Take an action step. One genuine smile, one kind word, one loving action. These actions, taken together, can change the world, one smile at a time.

Our friendship and compassion to immigrants, strangers, refugees and migrants is such a gift. Best of all? We will be doing what God commands. Hear what God is saying to the church.

[1] https://communicatingacrossboundariesblog.com/2017/08/07/who-are-the-immigrants-in-your-life/

[2] https://communicatingacrossboundariesblog.com/2017/08/07/who-are-the-immigrants-in-your-life/

(A heartfelt thank you to Marilyn Gardiner and her wonderful blog “Communicating Across the Boundaries of Faith & Culture.” Thanks for your permission to make an extended quote from your blog in this week’s sermon.

Another heartfelt thank you to An Illustrated Compassion: Learning to Love Like God. Many of these sermon ideas and thoughts came directly from this series.  I appreciate this intergenerational curriculum, which is the basis for my summer sermon series on compassion. This curriculum comes from Illustrated Children’s Ministry. Thanks so much for such great ideas!)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Compassion for an Invalid

John 5:1-9 (5:6) – August 13, 2017

John 5-6 Jesus, Bethesda icon

“Compassion for an Invalid”

Have you ever heard of a really whacky, old-time law that is still on the books? There are some doozies, still on the legal codes of certain municipalities, all across our country today.

To mention a few whacky laws from the past: “It is illegal to mispronounce the name of the city of Joliet, Illinois.” “In Utah, the law requires that daylight be seen between two dancing partners.”  “Michigan law once required taking a census of bees every winter.”  “In Muncie, Indiana, you cannot bring fishing tackle into a cemetery.” And, “A Minnesota law requires that men’s and women’s underwear not be hung on the same clothesline at the same time.” [1]

We can look at these laws today and laugh. However, the folks from years ago who put these laws into place felt strongly about them. They thought these laws were great ideas, and were genuinely concerned about their communities, families, and the well-being of their society.

Let’s take another look at our Scripture passage from John chapter 5, and see what it has to do with rules and rule-following. I’ll read from a modern translation for young people, from Illustrated Children’s Ministries.

“At a festival the Jewish people were observing, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In that city, by the Sheep Gate, there is a pool—its Hebrew name is Beth-zatha—which has five entry spaces. People who are blind, or very sick, or cannot move gather in these spaces.”

Here, the Apostle John sets the stage for us. He gives us the time of year—during one of the great festivals, and the location—Jerusalem. What’s more, John then specifically mentions the place where this healing situation occurs, and gives some description.

To continue: “One man was there who had been ill for almost forty years. Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time. Jesus said to the man, “Do you want to be made well?”

Jesus’s question—“Do you want to be made well?” A really serious question, not to be taken lightly or taken for granted. I think Jesus knew the older man had given up hope, and Jesus had compassion on him: serious compassion. His heart went out to the poor guy. Let’s hear what the invalid’s answer is:

“The man explained, “Sir, I’m alone. There is no one who will put me into the pool when the healing water is stirred up. When I try to get there on my own, I’m too slow—someone else steps down ahead of me.”

This poor guy has been hanging out by the pool of Bethesda for almost forty years! He’s all alone. He’s too slow. He never can make it into the water. I suspect he continued to come to the pool where miracles happen simply because that was where he had gone for so long, that he was in the long-time habit of coming there. Plopping down in “his spot.” What is more, this invalid was at the end of his hope, in terms of hope for a cure ever coming to him.

When, wonder of wonders! What happened?

Jesus said to the invalid, “Stand up. Grab your mat. Walk.” The man did what Jesus said; he could! He was healed! This happened on a Sabbath day.”

Just think of how it feels to be healthy again after you’ve been sick for a couple days. I wonder how amazing it felt for this man Jesus healed who had been sick for 38 years! How would you have responded to Jesus’ healing?

I am absolutely certain that everyone who lived or worked near the pool of Bethesda knew this invalid. He was such a sad, sorry guy with a negative, down-in-the-mouth attitude. However, the Rabbi Jesus knew just where he was hurting, and just where he needed to be healed. Healed in body, yes! Healed also in mind and spirit? Yes, too!

I am not sure whether Jesus touched the muscles and brought them back to wholeness, or whether Jesus healed the joins and tendons and brought the middle-aged invalid back to a full range of motion. (Somehow, I cannot imagine Jesus doing anything less.) This is a miracle story. Jesus did, indeed work a mighty miracle! And, Jesus showed great compassion to this invalid who had been lying next to the pool for almost forty years.

It’s the short sentence at the very end of our Scripture reading today that I would like to highlight. “This happened on a Sabbath day.” Remember how we started this sermon? Talking about some wacky rules and laws? The Jewish religious leaders had some really picky, wacky rules and laws of their own. Just as an example, the Jewish Law said it was illegal for anyone to do any work on a Sabbath day, and for the former invalid to do a simple thing like carry his mat, that was considered work!

Some of the Jewish religious leaders saw the former invalid doing just that: carrying his mat, on his way home. (On his own two healthy feet, by the way.) The religious leaders said this man was breaking the law. They were totally serious about this law code, too!

Remember when I played “Simon Says” with the young people, before the sermon today? You all know the rules in “Simon Says,” how everyone does what the leader says as long as the leader says “Simon Says.” Sometimes, a lot of life can feel like a lot of rules to follow, too. And, sometimes certain rules and laws feel whacky, even ridiculous. Our Lord Jesus knew all of these religious rules, the various Laws of Moses. But Jesus did not always follow them. Like, in this case, where Jesus told the man who used to be an invalid to carry his mat—on the Sabbath day, too!

And, what about Jesus healing on the Sabbath day? The Jewish leaders considered that work, too! There is something the matter with religious people getting outraged about someone being healed—made whole—able to work and walk and be a full member of society again—just because the healing took place on the Sabbath day, the Jewish holy day. (We might examine the priorities of these “super-holy” Jewish religious leaders, for sure.)

Time and time again in the Gospels, Jesus confused and frustrated these same religious leaders. The defense of the Sabbath day laws and rules was “the defense of an entire system of ordering life and religious practice. It is the defense of a particular religious community—” [2]the Jewish community, Jewish society. Jesus questioned these Laws and religious rules in order to help others. [3]

Rosa Parks broke the law by sitting in the front of a bus in Birmingham. Martin Luther King, Jr. broke the law by marching for civil rights and to overcome racism and Jim Crow laws. Our own Pastor Gordon broke the law by traveling to the civil rights demonstrations in the 1960’s and marching with the likes of Mrs. Parks, the Rev. Dr. King, and so many others.

Considering our Gospel reading today, “Jesus brings God into human experience in ways that transcend and transform human definitions and categories.” [4]

What about you? Are you on the side of Jesus? Bringing God into human experience? Can we bring the clarion call of peace and justice into the world, into our neighborhoods and communities, and into the lives of those we love?

And remember, have compassion on everyone around you. Just like Jesus. Love one another, with our actions. Have compassion, just like Jesus.

[1] https://bible.org/seriespage/12-jesus-heals-man-pool-bethesda-john-51-18

“Jesus Heals the Man at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-18),” by Robert Deffinbaugh at the Biblical Studies Foundation.

[2] O’Day, Gail, The Gospel of John, The new Interpreter’s Bible: general articles & introduction, commentary, & reflections for each book of the Bible, Vol. 9 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000), 581.

[3] https://store.illustratedchildrensministry.com/products/an-illustrated-compassion-learning-to-love-like-god

[4] O’Day, Gail, The Gospel of John, The new Interpreter’s Bible: general articles & introduction, commentary, & reflections for each book of the Bible, Vol. 9 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000), 581.

(A heartfelt thank you to An Illustrated Compassion: Learning to Love Like God. Many of these sermon ideas and thoughts came directly from this series.  I appreciate this intergenerational curriculum, which is the basis for my summer sermon series on compassion. This curriculum comes from Illustrated Children’s Ministry. Thanks so much for such great ideas!)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Encourage, Nurture and Communicate

Luke 18:15-17 (18:16), Mark 10:13-16 – August 6, 2017

Luke 18-16 Jesus, children, stained glass

“Compassion: Encourage, Nurture and Communicate”

Encourage, nurture and communicate. These are three strong action words! Why on earth do I have these three verbs, or action words, as the title of my sermon today? Especially in the middle of a summer sermon series on compassion?

Our gospel reading is from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 18. This is a situation where the disciples are being really thick-headed. By forbidding young children and babies to get close to “their” Rabbi Jesus, the disciples are definitely not being compassionate. In fact, this is an unkind and unfeeling act. Sadly, we know this kind of unkind, unfeeling behavior is typical of the disciples on much more than one occasion. It might even be typical of followers of Jesus today—this behavior may be even typical of people we know in our own neighborhoods.

Encourage, nurture and communicate. Those are action words that sound like Jesus. What’s more, I suspect the disciples might chase us away from Jesus if we act in that way, too. Encouraging others; nurturing and communicating to others, in love and friendship, showing others the love of Jesus. Are the disciples really so thick-headed and dense that Jesus has to rebuke them? I am afraid so.

We are going to go back two months, to the middle of June. In the Wednesday midweek bible study, we took the opportunity to begin crafting a revised mission statement for St. Luke’s Church. Using the excellent book The Path by Laurie Beth Jones, the bible study members and I went through a series of exercises and steps to winnow through the different types of words and phrases which might often be listed in mission statements.

Our first puzzle piece in the revised mission statement was to find some action words, or strong verbs, that describe what we as a church have been doing among ourselves in the past, and what we wish to do in the present for those inside and outside the church, for outreach.

In other words, we focused on our church’s unique gifts and background, on our passion. What are we passionate about, as a church? If our mission holds no passion, we won’t go much of anywhere. The word “enthusiasm” comes from the Greek words “en” and “theos,” which mean “in God.” What are we enthusiastic or “in God” about? [1]

Let us take another look at our Gospel reading for today. What were the people in our Gospel text for today excited about? Reading from Luke 18: “15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus for Him to place His hands on them.” The parallel passage in Mark also mentions people bringing “young children” to Jesus.

Do you hear? Parents and even grandparents were excited to have the Rabbi Jesus place His hands on their children. They wanted Jesus to bless their children! That’s what they were passionate about! That’s what they were enthusiastic about!

How can we—as a family of faith—take what most excites us and use it to change things in our neighborhood—in the nation—in the world?

Every mission requires action. Action words are verbs. The bible study looked at a long list of action verbs. We kept our church and what we are good at in mind, and, what we wanted to see our church do in this neighborhood, too. We figured out the three most meaningful, purposeful and exciting verbs out of over 200 action words that referred specially to our particular church and what we are good at. That is puzzle piece number one.

And, yes. That is where encourage, nurture and communicate fit in. These action words are the words we chose as meaningful, purposeful and exciting words for St. Luke’s mission.

Turning back to our Gospel reading for today, we need to examine the thick-headed disciples and their hasty halt to the babies and children who wanted to come to Jesus. What were the mistakes the disciples made? How can we do better, today?

Let’s take our three action words. I would like to ask you: can we as a congregation encourage people to come to Jesus? Can we encourage children, young people, adults and seniors to come to Jesus? Our second action word is nurture. Can we nurture each other in the love of God within this church building? How about nurturing others who are not in this family of faith? And third, we can all communicate God’s love, every day. Not only within the church, but outside. On the street. In our homes. To everyone we meet.

To continue with the story of how we built the mission statement piece by piece, the bible study examined what we stand for, as a congregation—as a family of faith. What principle, cause, value or purpose would we be willing to defend…devote our lives to? For example, some people’s key phrase or value might be “joy” or “service” or “justice” or “family” or “creativity” or “freedom” or “equality” or “faith” or “excellence.” What is St. Luke’s Church’s CORE? What is the most fundamental value/purpose for St. Luke’s Church?

Again, we went through a whole list of meaningful and worthwhile phrases and values. The bible study talked about a few of the ones we found most important, and came up with three finalists: integrity, faith and welcome. This is puzzle piece number two in our mission statement.

What exciting possibilities are open to us, as a congregation?  Someone asked Laurie Beth “What if I come up with the wrong mission statement?” When she asked him what his current mission statement was, he didn’t have one. She told him, “Well, whatever you come up with will be 100 % more accurate than the one you have right now.” A good mission statement will be inspiring, exciting, clear, and engaging. It will be specific to our congregation and our particular enthusiasms, gifts, and talents. [2]

Let’s go back to the thick-headed disciples, who just did not get what Jesus was trying to get across to them. As Luke mentions, “15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them.” Can you imagine a follower of Jesus kicking someone out of the youth group? Or telling someone they are not welcome in a bible study or a men’s breakfast? Or, at service on Sunday morning? Can you imagine someone at our church doing something like that?

This is one big reason why integrity, faith and welcome were so important to our mission statement. We considered integrity, faith and welcome to be St. Luke’s Church’s CORE, or the most fundamental value or purpose for St. Luke’s Church.

Which brings us to puzzle piece number three. Who is important to us, as a family of faith? Which group or cause excites us? Who do we want to come alongside? We in the bible study chose three groups that we most want to reach, or feel the most empathy for. We can impact these in a positive, meaningful way: children, families and individuals.

What was our Lord Jesus’s response to the disciples? “Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Jesus valued children and young people. Society as a whole did not think very much of children at all. Certainly not in His time, and not so much in ours, either. Worldwide, the position of children and young people is not high—especially of pre-teen and teenage girls, and women, too.

It is imperative that St. Luke’s Church reaches out with the Love of God to children, families and women, too.

How can we reach out in love, to those inside the church, and out?  Reach out with God’s Love, that overarching, undergirding base, the end-all and be-all to everything? We can reach out through loving words and actions, good works, food pantries and other service projects.

Jesus had a compassionate, one-sentence mission statement, which He states in Luke 19:10. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” That is what He gave His entire life to. St. Luke’s Church’s compassionate mission statement is: to ENCOURAGE, NURTURE and COMMUNICATE in INTEGRITY, FAITH and WELCOME to children, families and individuals through loving words/actions, good works, food pantries and other service projects.

Are we serious about our mission? God willing, we shall be. Now, go and do likewise. Encourage, nurture and communicate God’s love in integrity, faith and welcome. To everyone we meet.

 

[1] The Path, Laurie Beth Jones, (New York, NY: Hachette Books), 49.

[2] The Path, Laurie Beth Jones, (New York, NY: Hachette Books), 64.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)