The Coming King

“The Coming King”

Jesus Palm Sunday - Giotto di Bonde, Entry into Jerusalem 1304-06, Fresco, Cappella Scrovegni Arena Chapel, Padua

Luke 19:35-40 – April 14, 2019

The most powerful person in the world. Ever hear that expression? I suspect it is familiar to most of us from movies, from comic books, from historical fiction. With the release of super hero blockbusters every few months, we certainly have the opportunity to see the clash of titans on the big screen, and the super hero of the movie conquering the huge threat or the big bad guy—or big bad girl. The thing is…can we imagine Jesus as the most powerful person in the world?

Our Gospel reading today from Luke 19 tells us that a huge crowd of people thought the Rabbi Jesus was a really important person, a really powerful person. He was a Miracle Worker, He preached with authority, and just to be in His presence—wow! The crowd was hailing Him as the long-awaited King, the Anointed One of God, the Messiah.  

Jesus, Himself, had been telling His disciples that He had to go to Jerusalem for some time now. Even though His friends kept telling Him that the Jewish leaders and the Sanhedrin had it in for Him and wanted to kill Him, Jesus still “determined to go to Jerusalem,” as Luke tells us back in chapter 9.

Today’s story has all the makings of a great drama. (And, the narrative of the Passion Week has been recorded a number of times in motion pictures.) As commentator Alyce McKenzie tells us, “Good stories, screenwriters tell us, have a compelling protagonist, a believable supporting cast, a series of vivid scenes, and plenty of dramatic tension.” [1] Dr. Luke’s telling of the Palm Sunday story has all that, and more.

Here we are on Palm Sunday, and the weeks of Lent are almost over. That means that our series on the Lord’s Prayer is almost over, too. What sentence are we going to look at today, with our Scripture readings of Luke’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, and the Apostle Paul’s hymn of Christ’s humility? We take a closer look at “for Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever, amen.”  What more glorious Scripture readings to examine!

As we think of our great Divine drama, Jesus not only is a marvelous protagonist, but we can see He displays Divine foreknowledge. “Jesus knows ahead of time where the colt will be and what the response of the owner will be to being told, “The Lord needs it.” Luke shares with the other evangelists a portrait of Jesus as a true prophet whose prophecies are fulfilled and who has access to the secret knowledge of human hearts.” [2]

The second necessary feature of a great drama is a believable supporting cast. Look at the disciples—human, and distinctive. Listen again to Luke’s story: “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’” 32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it “

We notice the rest of the supporting cast here, in the next verses. “As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. 37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: 38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

From time to time we have talked about putting ourselves into a Scripture reading, and viewing it from the inside. Where would you be, in our Gospel reading from Luke? Are you an excited disciple or crowd member, waving your arms and picking up a palm to welcome the Messiah Jesus into the city of Jerusalem? Or, are you one of the skeptical ones on the road, holding back, with a wait-and-see attitude?

“The people were obviously weary of the Roman occupation. They had been hearing rumors of a great teacher from Nazareth who healed the sick, fed the hungry, and made the scriptures come alive. Some of them had seen miracles first hand and had heard parables straight from Jesus’ mouth. Now, they had a deliverer; their long-awaited Messiah and Savior, King Jesus, was with them.” [3]

The third necessary element in any great drama is dramatic tension. Boy, does the Triumphal Entry have that! Even down to the antagonistic Jewish leaders who come up against the Messiah Jesus, this has drama all over the place.

It is almost too difficult for me to put myself into the narrative, I know this story all too well. Yes, I am tempted to rush right through the Palm Sunday celebration, go once-over-lightly through the several events recorded in the other Gospels during Holy Week, and cry again because of the Crucifixion this Friday night. Or, was it two thousand years ago?

Switching to the New Testament reading from Philippians, the apostle Paul has a slightly different point of view. Paul is writing from the other side of the Crucifixion, the Resurrection and Jesus’ ascension into heaven—as we know from the Apostles Creed, Jesus has taken His seat at God’s right hand in heaven.

As we start this reading to the church in Philippi, Paul tells us of Jesus, before His incarnation and birth in Bethlehem. The eternal Christ humbled Himself, emptied Himself of all Godhood, all Godly prerogatives, and became a helpless human baby. Imagine the most powerful person in the whole world, in the whole universe, even. The eternal Christ put aside the kingdom of the universe, the ultimate power and the infinite glory, to become human.

Another way of looking at this is that Jesus put aside all of that kingdom, power and glory so He could communicate better with us, so He could come along side of us and be Emmanuel, God-with-us, as we have talked about at Christmas. But, that is not the end. Oh, no! Certainly not!

We see this progression: the preincarnate Christ, in all His kingdom, power and glory. Amen! “Christ emptied himself of inherent divinity, and for his supreme obedience unto crucified death, he was exalted by God for unending glory. Philippians 2:5-11 keeps the focus Christologically and theologically tight. On Passion Sunday [today, this Sunday], Paul keeps us grounded in what God, through Christ Jesus, is doing.” [4]

We do not look at the institution of Communion on Maundy Thursday and the Crucifixion of Good Friday. We are skipping the additional drama, trauma, anguish and grief today. Paul does mention those things briefly, but he looks to the amazing ending. “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

If that is not a proclamation of the last line of the Lord’s Prayer, I don’t know what is. “For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever, amen.” Have you bowed the knee to our ascended and exalted Jesus the Messiah? Is your tongue acknowledging Him as Lord and Savior? Yes, Jesus was crucified on our account. It was for our sins He was crucified. His arms are open. His pierced hands are extended. Come to Jesus, today.

[1] https://www.patheos.com/Progressive-Christian/Palm-Sunday-Alyce-McKenzie-03-18-2013.html

Rewriting the Palm Sunday Story: Reflections on Luke 19:28-40, Alyce McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, 2013.

[2] https://www.patheos.com/Progressive-Christian/Palm-Sunday-Alyce-McKenzie-03-18-2013.html

Rewriting the Palm Sunday Story: Reflections on Luke 19:28-40, Alyce McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, 2013.

[3] http://www.theafricanamericanlectionary.org/PopupLectionaryReading.asp?LRID=15           

Commentary, Zechariah 9:9-13 / Luke 19:28-40, Rodney S. Sadler, Jr., The African American Lectionary, 2008.

[4] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=284

Commentary, Philippians 2:5-11 (Passion Sunday), C. Clifton Black, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.

@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!

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Hallowed is Christ Jesus

“Hallowed is Christ Jesus”

Phil 3-7 consider things loss, circle

Phil 3:4b-14 – April 7, 2019

            “Holy:  adjective, ho·li·er, ho·li·est. 1. specially recognized as or declared sacred by religious use or authority; consecrated. (holy ground)  2. dedicated or devoted to the service of God, the church, or religion. (a holy person)  3. saintly; godly; pious; devout. (a holy life)  [1]

            Holy, or “hallowed” is what we say about God and God’s name every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer.

Perhaps some people think of God as some huge guy with a long white beard, sitting in some glorious heavenly Temple, the Holy-of-Holies in the sky. “Holy is Your name!” Maybe some people think of God as a massive earthquake, and the whole countryside shakes, rumbles and crumbles. Then, perhaps some folks see God in the vast quiet of nature, the quiet rustle of a green meadow, or the gentle quiet of the waves lapping on an ocean beach.

We have two Bible readings today. Each of them gives a different perspective on Jesus and His magnificent, awesome holiness.

            Let’s look at them chronologically. First, Jesus is at a fancy dinner in Bethany, not long before His arrest, trial and crucifixion. His friend Martha made Him dinner, Mary and Martha’s brother (newly raised from the dead) Lazarus probably was hosting, and everyone is having a wonderful time. When—Mary takes an incredibly expensive jar of sweet-smelling ointment and pours it on Jesus’s feet. What is more, she unbinds her hair and starts wiping His feet with her hair. The whole house is filled with the marvelous scent of that ointment. I am sure that was a scent (and a sight) that everyone there remembered for the rest of their lives.

            The next Bible reading is from the letter to the church at Philippi. The apostle Paul (who often uses run-on sentences) goes on and on about himself, how much of a super Pharisee and righteous Jew he is, and even filled with great zeal for God. He is single-minded for the Lord! All God, all the time! But then—Paul comes to a complete stop. He says all of his marvelous resume is completely worthless, compared to the mega-awesome, super-special magnificence of knowing his Savior Christ Jesus his Lord.

             The commentator Carolyn Brown says “The petition “hallowed be thy name” in the Lord’s Prayer underlies both Mary’s lavish gift and Paul’s total commitment to Jesus.  Both give and live as they do because they know God/Jesus is hallowed.” [2] So, both Mary and Paul know that Jesus is the Holiest-of-Holies.

            In Mary’s case, this anointing of her Rabbi, teacher and friend with ointment was a coming attraction. In essence, a preview of the human Jesus’s death and resurrection. Mary gives her incredibly costly gift because she knows that Jesus is so holy and set apart. Not only pious, devoted and dedicated to God, but something even more special.

            Paul went about this in a slightly different way. Paul gave his readers a brief snapshot of his impressive resume, before Jesus Christ made such a difference in his life. Admittedly, this rundown of who and what Paul was makes him sound like one of the entries in the first-century’s version of Who’s Who, a mover-and-shaker of the Ancient Near East.

            In verses 4, 5 and 6, “His credentials, Paul tells us, were impeccable. Both through inheritance and attainment he has more reason than others to boast of his status. Paul’s loyalty to Israel’s God was unsurpassed. Paul’s very persecution of the followers of Jesus bore witness to his deep desire to please God.” [3] Yet—Paul makes a sudden shift in his bragging. Listen: “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.”

            Remember, Paul writes from the perspective of one who has made a commitment to Jesus; and not just the human Jesus, either.  When our resurrected Lord and Savior appeared to Paul on the Damascus Road, that was a huge earthquake of an experience. The apostle Paul gives fascinating autobiographical details about himself, but then says all of that is worthless compared to the ultimate joy of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord.

Or, is that Christ Jesus our Lord?

            I think most of us—if not all of us—are familiar with well-meaning but worldly-driven parents, who seek out such stellar activities for their children’s resumes. We can see that Paul had it all, from a worldly point of view: until he had that divine, life-changing encounter on the road to Damascus.

            Sure, only a portion of Christians have a sudden, thunder clap of a Damascus Road encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, we all name Him holy. Don’t we? We all pray the Lord’s Prayer, don’t we?

            In the original language of this letter, Greek, Paul uses what some might say is a nasty, word, even perhaps a swear word. This word is found in verse 8: from the Good News Translation: “For his sake I have thrown everything away; I consider it all as mere garbage, so that I may gain Christ.” Or, one of my favorite translations, the Message: “everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him.”

            Comparing himself to Jesus, the ultimate Holy-of-Holies, is it any wonder that Paul considers everything that he thought he had going for himself as dog dung? Flushing his impeccable resume and outstanding pedigree down the toilet?

Beforehand, before he met Jesus on that road to Damascus, Paul’s total, single-minded commitment to his Lord, the Jewish understanding of God, puts us all to shame. But, afterwards? He transferred that single-minded commitment to his Lord and Savior. As Paul himself says in verses 12-14, “I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.”

            Carolyn Brown compared holy and hallowed to the words awesome, special and wonderful. This is the very, very, very best. When we say “hallowed be Thy name,” those are words that can be applied only to God. Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, just like the apostle Paul, just like Mary of Bethany, we are saying “God, You are holy, You are the very, very, very best there is in the whole universe.”

We are well on our way, reaching out for Christ, who so wondrously reached out for all of us. For each one of us. Thank You, God! In Jesus’ precious, redeeming name, amen!

[1] https://www.dictionary.com/browse/holy

Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

[2] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2016/02/year-c-fifth-sunday-in-lent-march-13.html

Worshiping with Children, Lent 5C. Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2016.

[3] http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/55769/7_April_Angus_Morrison_5_in_Lent.pdf

The Mission and Discipleship Council would like to thank the Very Rev Dr Angus Morrison, Minister of Orwell and Portmoak, for his thoughts on the fifth Sunday in Lent.

@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!

Patient, Forgiving and Welcoming

“Patient, Forgiving and Welcoming”

Luke 15 prodigal son sketch, Rembrandt

Luke 15:20 – March 31, 2019

What do you think of when I mention the black sheep of the family? The kid who went astray? A really rough customer? A person you would not trust an inch with any amount of money? Someone who you wouldn’t want any children hanging around?

This is the kind of person we are going to meet today in the parable of Jesus we read from Luke 15. Some people call the parable “The Prodigal Son.” Remember the Rabbi Jesus was having dinner with some people the good, righteous synagogue-going people did not approve of? They were sniffing and clucking and making a big stink about Jesus and His dinner companions. So, as a response, Jesus tells three parables in Luke chapter 15, the last of which is the parable of the Prodigal—or the Lost Son.

The parable begins: “Then Jesus said, “There was once a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Father, I want right now what’s coming to me.’ So the father divided the property between them.”

This younger son was a brat. Or, worse, he was an ungrateful wretch. Do you know what he asked for? In that day, the son essentially told his father he wanted him to drop dead. That was the only way the younger son would have gotten his inheritance, in the normal order of things. What an ungrateful, selfish so-and-so! The father—amazingly—liquidates a third of his assets, giving the younger son his share of the father’s property. Perhaps you haven’t been as crass or unfeeling enough to walk up to one of your relatives and shout, “I wish you would drop dead!” and really mean it. But, that is exactly what Jesus begins this parable with.

Back to the parable: “It wasn’t long before the younger son packed his bags and left for a distant country. There, undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to hurt. He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any.”

Going to a faraway, distant country. Sounds sort of romantic, doesn’t it? However, it does not take too long for this black sheep to run through all his money, lose all his fair-weather friends and end up on the streets as a homeless person. Plus, a famine struck the country he was living in. Consequences! What should he do now?

Let me step back from our parable for a moment—away from the younger son in the pigsty. I invite us to reflect on the church season we are presently in, Lent. Lent is a season where we are invited to reflect on our personal brokenness, and the need for God’s redemption.

This Lenten season we are also considering the different sentences of the Lord’s Prayer. This week, our sentence is “forgive us our debts (or, sins) as we forgive our debtors (or, those who sin against us).” I have a question: have you ever been so angry with someone that you have said (or thought) “I could never forgive him/her!” What is even worse is if you—or I—turn our backs, fold our arms across our chests and stubbornly insist, “I will never forgive her/him!”

What kind of unforgiving attitude is that? If we expect to be forgiven by God for all of the sins we commit daily, isn’t that unforgiving attitude a bit hypocritical? Rather a lot, really? What would God say about that ungodly attitude? What would you say about that attitude, now?

Back to the parable. “That brought him to his senses. The son said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.”

“The son’s repentance is implied, even if it is not clearly named by the ambiguous expression he came to himself (verse 17). After all, he hits rock bottom, longing to eat what unclean animals eat, once he is done in by a trio of calamities… As signs of contrition, he confesses sin and plans to ask his father to welcome him home as a slave instead of a son.” [1]

Now our parable shifts its point of view. We see the father: “When the son was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, the father ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’

Remember, we are in the middle of Lent, a season when we are thinking of how much each of us sins against God and against others. We journey with Jesus towards the cross in Lent, but we also take the time to think about how much each of us need God’s forgiveness, grace and redeeming love.  What is more, “Lent helps us see when and how and where we think only of ourselves. Lent helps us see our true motivations for our actions and our true motivations for apology or repentance. Lent helps us see when we truly are in the depths of despair. Lent helps us see our deep longing for love.” [2]

Let’s look at the father’s response: “But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.”

Almost any parent knows the feeling that if your kid really screws up, no matter what, the father (or mother) has the same love towards him, regardless of sin and unforgiveness. One might say any parent knows the feeling that even if the child goes off the rails and repeatedly misses the mark, the father is especially joyous to see the son who returns. But—the parable does not end there. Oh, no! We see the further unforgiving attitude of the elder son.

“All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done, he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the servants, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.’

The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’”

The elder son says “It’s not fair!” Well, guess what? The ways of God’s kingdom are NOT fair. True fairness leaves NO room for grace. Yes, God’s redeeming love for us is not fair. Would we really want it to be absolutely fair, all cold, legal rules with no grace and love at all?

The elder son is just as much as lost as his younger brother, isn’t he? Lost in his resentment, anger and alienation. “His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’”

Whoa! “No one bothered to call [the elder son] in to join the party! Accordingly, he does not enter the house. He does not address his father as “Father” and speaks to him about “this son of yours” instead of “my brother.” His refusal to celebrate stems from his deep resentment. Why is he resentful? He is taken for granted. No extravagance celebrates his reliable service. He accuses his father of showing preferential treatment.” [3] But, I ask again—do we really want God to be absolutely fair, in a cold, legalistic manner? With no grace or love at all?

Yes, “forgive as we wish to be forgiven” is a great lesson. But, I think the parable of the two Lost Sons has much more for us this week. Jesus told this parable to illustrate the boundless love of a parent for their children—the love of God the Father for His wayward sons and daughters. If you have really messed up, and you don’t think God could ever, ever forgive you, isn’t it wonderful to hear that the Prodigal’s father welcomed both His sons back home?

In this parable, Jesus tells us that God is patient, welcoming, and forgiving. God loves each one of us, forever and ever. Talk about good news! Isn’t this the best news in the world?

(Thanks to Eugene Peterson’s wonderful modern translation “The Message” for the use of this scripture reading. The parable of the two Lost Sons is from Luke 15:11-32.)

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=533

Matt Skinner  Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn.

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=4553

“Perspective Matters,” Karoline Lewis, Dear Working Preacher, 2016.

[3] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=533

Matt Skinner  Professor of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn.

@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!

Tempted by the Evil One

“Tempted by the Evil One”

Luke 4-2 devil tempted

Luke 4:1-13 (4:1-2) – March 10, 2019

Have you ever heard of H.A.L.T.? Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. These four factors in life are abbreviated to the acronym H.A.L.T. and has been used to great effect by recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and other, similar self-care and mindfulness methods.

Whenever you or I find ourselves hungry, angry, lonely or tired, we are that much more susceptible to negative thoughts, behaviors, or both. “It seems simple enough, but when these basic needs are not met, we are susceptible to self-destructive behaviors including relapse. Fortunately, hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness are easy to address and serve as a warning system before things reach a breaking point.” [1]

In our Gospel reading today, we find our Lord Jesus in the wilderness for quite a long time. The Gospel of Luke mentions He was there for forty days, and had little to eat. Yes, Jesus was fasting and observing an extended time of prayer and spiritual preparation before God. However, I want us to focus on one specific facet of this Gospel reading today: our Lord Jesus was tempted by the devil. Luke says so, right in verse 2.

What is temptation, anyhow? We know that our Gospel writer Luke said the devil came to Jesus and tempted Him. But—we were not there. We don’t know if the temptation was internal, in Jesus’s head, or external, where the figure of Satan in a red suit with horns and a pointy tail appeared to Jesus. It could be either, both, or something we cannot even imagine, in our limited, earthly minds. But—this we do know. Jesus was tempted—tried—tested exceedingly—by the power of absolute evil, personified. As the devil tried to get Jesus to go his way, away from God and God’s way, we need to pay close attention.

This is serious business indeed, and we ought to sit up and take notice of what Jesus said and did. But first, I would like for us to consider the Lord’s Prayer. Yes, we will be looking at a line from the Lord’s Prayer each week in Lent. What line is more appropriate to this Gospel reading today than “Lead us not into temptation?”

Let us return to Jesus, at the end of His forty-day period of prayer and spiritual preparation for His time of public ministry. He is definitely hungry and tired, and most probably lonely, as well. Definitely two of these strong physical, psychological and spiritual triggers that serve as a warning system for us humans, and probably all three of these triggers. We would expect Jesus to be very hungry, lonely and tired.

At such a physical, psychological and spiritual low point for Jesus, the devil suspected He might be susceptible to temptation. Wouldn’t you suspect it, if you were totally evil?

What were Jesus’s responses to these tests or trials? First, the devil tempted Jesus physically, with food. This bread was a perfectly reasonable thing for Jesus to desire! Except—not in the way the devil was presenting it. Hear, again, the first temptation: “The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.’”

Ah, the devil keeps using the old tried-and-true deception. “IF you are the Son of God…then…” Trying to plant doubt in people’s minds, and put them on the defensive! “IF this is so…then…” But, Jesus does not take the bait. He answers with the Word of God from Deuteronomy: “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’” No discussion, no wiggle-room, just the Word of God.

The devil tries another tack, and tempts Jesus psychologically. The devil tests Jesus with ultimate power and authority even before the very beginning of His ministry, instead of waiting three years until after Jesus’s death on the Cross and Resurrection from the dead. (Again, I have no idea whether the devil actually took Jesus to a high place, like a real mountain, or whether this was a projection in their heads, sort of like virtual reality.) The culmination for this second test was if Jesus considered all the kingdoms of the world, then He needed to bow down and worship the devil. Which, was not happening! Jesus responds again from Deuteronomy, and says ““It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

The third temptation was a spiritual one, where the devil dared—even, double-dog-dared—Jesus to throw Himself down from the roof of the Temple. (Which was the first-century equivalent of a high-rise.) For the third time, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy, and says, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

This is an excellent reason to memorize Scripture, by the way. Just so we can respond to the devil when we are confronted by a temptation that seems overpowering! God’s Word is truly “alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword,” as Hebrews 4:12 tells us. We can see that Jesus used this two-edged sword freely, to defend against temptation of the devil. We can always turn to the Lord’s Prayer, too, where we ask God to please keep us away from situations where we might be tempted by the devil.

The Lord’s Prayer is direct quoting of Scripture, too, from Matthew 6. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount gives us the template of a great prayer we can always pray to God, in countless varieties of situations. Like, in this one, where we ask God to “lead us not into temptation.”

That quoting-Scripture-stuff is all very well, but how do Jesus and the devil being on top of the Temple connect with my life and experience? Well, we can go back to some temptations we are able to relate to. Temptations that are almost irresistible for many people, temptations the children and I talked about today. Remember? What about a plate of cookies left on the kitchen counter—with no one else around? What about an extra-cool smart phone left unattended in a very public place, like an empty table in the food court at the mall? Or, what about a set of test answers in such plain view that you can hardly help but see them on the desk of the student next to you? Or, next to your kid, or your grandchild?

All of those things are SO tempting! And, for most of us, we will see the situation, and automatically do the right thing. But, sometimes—maybe even with you or someone you know—the temptation is SO real to do the wrong thing, to steal a cookie or three, or to pocket the smart phone, or to take a quick photo of the test answers with your phone.

It is in those pesky situations where any of us can feel weak and susceptible that we can pray “lead us not into temptation” and really mean it, with all our hearts! Or, even better, we can put those Bible words into our own words, and internalize this concept into our hearts. “Something like ‘God, help me know what is right and wrong and be able to do what is right without even thinking about it.’” [2]

Let us pray to God so that we all may follow God more nearly, and love God more dearly, each day more and more, throughout Lent and beyond. Please God, may it be so.

[1] https://bradfordhealth.com/halt-hunger-anger-loneliness-tiredness/ Accessed March 9, 2019.

[2] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2016/01/year-c-first-sunday-in-lent-february-14.html

Worshiping with Children, Lent 1, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2016.

Clean on the Inside!

“Clean on the Inside!”

Psa 51-2 wash me, cleanse me

Psalm 51:1-3 – March 6, 2019

I remember the wringer washer my mother had in the basement of our small brick house on the northwest side of Chicago. I remember it well! We did not have an automatic washer, like all of my classmates at school. This was in the 1960’s and 1970’s. No, my mom insisted that the wringer washer did a perfectly good job cleaning our clothes—and even though I protested, she would say that a few broken buttons from the wringer were easily repaired with a trip to the fabric store for more buttons, and some needle and thread.

King David had no idea of a washing machine when he wrote this psalm—not even an old-style wringer washer. But, his filthy insides certainly needed cleaning up. This psalm, Psalm 51, was a lament to God. David felt so dirty on the inside! Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever made a really, really, really big mistake? What can be called a huge sin before God? A transgression so big you did not even want to think about it, but you—we just wanted the earth to open up and swallow us whole, because we felt so rotten? That is how rotten David was feeling.

Admittedly, David’s sin before God was indeed huge.

In short, he had seen an attractive young woman named Bathsheba from the roof of his huge palace in Jerusalem. He was king, after all, so he had his private guard of soldiers bring her to him, and he slept with her. (This was despite having a number of wives and concubines of his own, already.) After a few weeks, Bathsheba sent to King David to let him know that she had become pregnant. Big problem! Bathsheba’s husband was a general in King David’s army. He was away from home. so she would become known as an adulterer, and possibly be stoned.

King David summoned General Uriah home from the battlefront, but Uriah would not go home to sleep with his attractive wife Bathsheba—he was too filled with integrity to do that, since the men under his command did not have access to their wives because they were on the battlefield. So, David ends up unjustly ordering Uriah to go back to the front and die a valiant yet horrible death on the field of battle. Essentially, murdering him, but using the enemy army to do the wicked deed. So—the pregnant Bathsheba was free to marry David.

Except, this chain of events went so much against God’s laws, and David had broken so many of God’s commands. This series of sins was so huge that when David faced up to the immenseness of the horrible deed, he fell on his face before the Lord and confessed his transgressions in the words of Psalm 51. After all, this psalm has the superscription attributing the psalm to David “after he had gone in to Bathsheba.”

Perhaps you and I have not committed such a huge wrongdoing as King David. But whether our sins are huge or not-so-huge, they still have that dirty, grimy patina that discolors our souls. “Psalm 51 was spoken, sung, and later penned by someone who understood the cleaning industry [of that day]. Look at the verbs: wash, cleanse, wipe, purge, blot. They all speak to something that is very dirty or really deep, or both.” [1]

It does not matter whether David was remembering the women of the village where he grew up, washing, scrubbing and wringing out their families’ clothing in tubs outside their homes, or whether we think of the agitator on those automatic wringer washers of yesterday, we all need to be cleansed from the wrongs we commit, on a regular basis.

Today is the first day of Lent, that penitential period of forty days before Easter when the Church all across the world begins to journey with Jesus towards the Cross. Yet, many people use external things like food or drink or certain practices to show their observance of Lent. This is a good thing, and I do not want to cause anyone to rethink their Lenten practices. However, King David here in Psalm 51 had something far more radical in mind. He wanted more than just his exterior cleaned. He wanted his insides cleaned up, too. Cleaned, and renewed!

Ash Wednesday is the day in the liturgical year when we concentrate on renewal—the messing-up we have done, on the inside as well as the outside. Whether large or small, we can all be cleansed and renewed deep down on our insides. The psalmist uses that most intimate of all things, first-person pronouns. “Have mercy upon me,” “blot out my transgressions,” “wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,” “I know my transgressions,” and “my sin is ever before me.”

At the beginning of each regular service each Sunday, we at St. Luke’s Church have a corporate time of confession. This Ash Wednesday service is a special time to gather together, and to become aware of our turning-away from God. This understanding of our sin—of the messing-up we have done and are continuing to do—prepares us to receive the forgiveness and joy of salvation that comes through Jesus Christ. And the cross of ashes on each forehead is a reminder of that blessed forgiveness in each one of our lives.

Praise God, we can be restored to a close relationship with God. Ash Wednesday and its intimate reflection can deepen our trust in God and thankfulness for God’s faithfulness. And best of all, when we are restored to a close relationship with our Lord—vertically, we are freed to enter into a closer relationship with everyone else—horizontally.

What a wonderful thing to look forward to. Praise God, indeed.

[1] Marty, Peter M., Homiletical Perspective on Psalm 51, Ash Wednesday, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, Vol. 2 (Louisville KY: Westminster John Knox, 2009), 9.

@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!

Terrified? Astounded!

“Terrified? Astounded!”

Jesus Transfiguration_Russian icon

 

Luke 9:28-36 (9:34-35) – March 3, 2019

Have you ever been truly terrified? Not of a horror movie on the movie screen, or of a horrific news story on television, in the newspaper or on the computer, but something terrifying that happened in real life? A first-hand experience, when you were an eye-witness to something truly terrifying?

Both Scripture readings today feature people who were eye-witnesses, who were also absolutely terrified. Both situations are so extraordinary, so far out of the observers’ common, every-day experience that they are frightened almost to death.

Let’s take the three disciples, first. Peter, James, and John, his brother. Jesus asks them to climb with Him to the top of a mountain to pray. This was a regular thing that Jesus did—not the mountain part, but going away by Himself—or with a couple of other people—to pray and meditate in depth. (May I say that this practice of regular prayer is a wonderful practice! And, one we will talk more about as we journey with Jesus throughout Lent in the coming weeks.)

So, Jesus and the three disciples retreat up the mountain to pray, and Peter, James and John were pleased and proud to be singled out in this way by Jesus. I am sure Jesus had a regular practice of prayer and communion with God. He probably led the disciples in regular prayer, and His habit of prayer times were a normal, every-day activity to the disciples.

Let us look at the Scripture reading from Exodus, where the people of Israel are at the foot of the mountain while Moses is up on top, meeting with God and receiving the tablets with the Ten Commandments on them. I am sure the people of Israel were living their common, ordinary, every-day lives while Moses communicated with God for days at a time. Other than some thunder and lightning from the top of the mountain, nothing had really changed for the people of Israel.

Except—in both situations—something suddenly crashed into their every-day lives and ordinary experiences and made all of these people terrified. What was it? They were all eye-witnesses, but what could possibly make them so terror-stricken?

Has anything suddenly crashed into your lives, and upended everything normal and ordinary? Something fearsome and terrifying?

C.S. Lewis wrote the Chronicles of Narnia, a series of books for children that featured a mysterious lion, Aslan. Aslan is the Great King of Narnia, who we later see as a Christ-figure. There are talking beasts—animals, in the Narnia books. When the children from this world speak with some talking beavers in Narnia, Mr. Beaver mentions Aslan: “He’ll be coming and going. One day you’ll see him and another you won’t. He doesn’t like being tied down – and of course he has other countries to attend to. It’s quite all right. He’ll often drop in. Only you mustn’t press him. He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.” [1] The character of Aslan shows himself in Narnia as a large and terrifying, but also magnificent and wise, lion with warm, kind eyes.

Aslan is dangerous! His roar is both fearsome and magnificent. People in Narnia say “He’s not a tame lion.” Aslan embodies all that is good, and yet is terrifying at the same time. Can you see how something awfully good and magnificent can also be fearsome and terrifying? Both, at the same time?

I suspect that was what the disciples experienced, on top of the mount of Transfiguration as well as the people of Israel, when Moses came down the mountain with the tablets of the Ten Commandments. Good and magnificent, but fearsome and terrifying at the same time.

The disciples were familiar with the figure of their Rabbi Jesus in prayer. They knew that common sight; it was comforting, even. But, listen to what Luke says: “29 As Jesus was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. 31 They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.”

In other words, Peter, James and John were astounded and terrified. Jesus was manifesting the presence of God, the divine glory, so His face shone and His clothes became brighter than bright. Fearsome, indeed!

In the case of the people of Israel, when Moses came close to them after being in the presence of God for days and days, his face shone brighter than bright. All of the people of Israel were terrified! What’s more, they begged Moses to cover his face, so that they did not have to see the divine glory reflected in the face of Moses.

Have we ever been eye-witnesses to the presence of God? To the divine glory? In all honesty, I have heard God’s voice on two occasions, but I have not seen the divine glory. Yet, in both readings today, all the people seeing the divine glory were terrified. By all accounts, what a fearsome sight, to be sure!

The three disciples saw the transformed Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah, discussing His departure, His crucifixion and what would come next. Except, they did not understand all that, yet. The point that fascinates me is that God manifested divine glory in Jesus—made His face all shiny and magnificent—not for Jesus’s benefit. No! God did this for the disciples! They were the ones who needed to see the glory of the transfigured Christ! Not their Rabbi Jesus, who they had been living with for the past few years. They sort of knew He was special, but they did not realize how special! “By wrapping Jesus in a shiny cloud and incredible clothes, God was telling the disciples, ‘Jesus is more than a special person. Jesus is God-with-you.’” [2]

Praise God! Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us! Jesus has great power, magnificence and divine glory. Yet, Jesus is kind and gentle, loving and caring. Astounding, terrifying, and God-with-us in His majesty and power.

Moses and Elijah came to talk with Jesus while He was transfigured with the divine glory. In Communion today, we can imagine ourselves coming to the Lord’s table with Moses and Elijah and a host of others. A traditional phrase from the Communion liturgy is “with the angels and archangels and all the heavenly host.” That is exactly who we are joining as we come to the Communion table today.

Who are you joining at the Communion table today? We are connected to God, our heavenly Parent, to our Lord Jesus, as well as to a whole host of others, both those living today as well as those with the Lord. Yes, a terrifying thought! But, also welcoming. Not either/or, but both/and.

The divine glory surrounding Jesus is terrifying! Yet, also magnificent, and welcoming, with God’s glorious transformative power. Can we be drawn closer to God today? God willing, we can.

Alleluia, Amen.

[1] Lewis, C.S., The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1950), 180.

[2] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2016/01/year-c-transfiguration-of-lord-february.html

Worshiping with Children, Transfiguration, 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!

What Are You Expecting?

“What Are You Expecting?”

Jesus teaching

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

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

Expectations—of what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Who Is a Disciple?

“Who Is a Disciple?”

Jesus fish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

@chaplaineliza

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

The Most Excellent Gift

“Love: The Most Excellent Gift”

1 Cor 13 love, ring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This description from Paul tells us what love is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alleluia, amen.

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

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

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

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

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

@chaplaineliza

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

Interconnected Gifts

“Interconnected Gifts”

1 cor 12-27 part of the body

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This thoroughly unscientific poll reveals a few possibilities:

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

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

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

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

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

Alleluia, amen.

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

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

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

@chaplaineliza

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

Suit Yourselves

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

“Suit Yourselves”

2 tim 4-3 ears tickled

2 Timothy 4:1-5  –  October 17, 2004

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alleluia, Amen.

@chaplaineliza

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

Infant Holy, Infant Lowly

“Infant Holy, Infant Lowly”

Infant Holy, words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alleluia, amen!

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

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

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

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

@chaplaineliza

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

O Come, Emmanuel

“O Come, Emmanuel”

O come Emmanuel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quoting from this wonderful song, the Magnificat:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

@chaplaineliza

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

God Is Working Things Out

“God Is Working Things Out”

Luke13-6 fig tree, medieval

Luke 13:1-9 – March 24, 2019

Mother Teresa is sometimes quoted as saying, “I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish He didn’t trust me so much.” Oh, I am often pleased and proud that God gives me such weighty things to be in charge of! But, I sometimes wish God would let someone else be so responsible!

Can you relate to Mother Teresa’s wry comment? I know I can, sometimes. Sometimes, life sneaks up on us and tackles us. Life can overwhelm us. Work gets beyond hectic; family problems can pile up. And, what about health? A friend of mine is in college, and her father had a sudden catastrophic health reversal earlier this week, and was rushed to ICU. As Katya Ouchakof said in her recent blog post, “The underlying idea is that life gets hard sometimes – almost to the point of being unbearable.” [1]

If we turn to our Gospel reading for today from Dr. Luke, we might scratch our heads, at first reading. We seem to have come into the conversation in the middle of things, and there is seemingly no continuity. Jesus bounces around from topic to topic. From the suffering Galileans, to the eighteen victims of a tower collapse, to a rather stern parable.

Wait a gosh darned minute, Jesus! I know our Lord’s sayings and parables can be deep and sometimes difficult to understand, but this section today is just plain random. Isn’t it? Is there anything that can tie these disparate segments together?

These topics Jesus brings up may seem random, it’s true. Just as random as life catching us unaware, and biting us on the tail. Say, a random downpour flooding your basement and ruining all the boxes—decades of photos and papers you have stored down there. Or, worse, a loved one falling on cement and seriously breaking a dozen bones. Or, worst of all, your favorite relative getting a terminal cancer diagnosis when they were previously the healthiest one in the whole family.

What gives? What on earth is going on? Why me? Why them? Why not someone else?  

Let’s look at the reading from Isaiah 55, verses 8 and 9. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

At first glance, if we add these verses from Isaiah to the random stuff we read from Luke, we may come up with absolutely nothing. “Hey, God! You don’t make any sense! I can’t figure You out, no matter how hard I try!”

Jesus Himself said it. “Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no!” Again, later in this reading: “Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no!”

I said it before, and I’ll say it again: Jesus Himself said it. God does not work in a quid pro quo fashion. It is absolutely not “if I do good stuff in my life, God simply has to give me good health, good family, lots of money, and long life.” Isn’t that the “Health, Wealth, and Happiness Gospel?” That is unscriptural, plain and simple. If we think and act this way, we make God a vending machine in the sky. God does not want to be expected to perform like some performing seal or dolphin! An immature understanding like that just will not work. When we do seven, or seventy-times-seven good deeds, God does not “have to” give us anything.

Compare the eighteen people killed by the collapsing tower in Jerusalem and the verses from Isaiah 55. At first glance, this does not seem like a very reassuring message. But, both of the passages are communicating to us that God’s ways are incomprehensible to us. God’s ways are so far beyond our ways, we cannot even comprehend the workings of the mind of God. Sometimes, we just do not understand why, or why not, and that is okay.

The sentence from the Lord’s Prayer we are highlighting this week is “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” Or, as Eugene Peterson says in his modern translation The Message, “Do what’s best—as You do above, so do here below.”

We are to ask God for God’s kingdom to come—as Eugene Peterson puts it so well, we ask God to “do what’s best.” This is important! We don’t have to have our fingers in every little aspect of every little situation. We do not need to micromanage. I am not God, and I am very glad of that!

Reminder: the next thing we pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy will be done.” In Peterson’s modern translation: “as You do above, so do here below.”

If you look at it another way, we do not HAVE to figure out why eighteen people were killed by the tower of Siloam falling on them. I love how commentator David Lose explains this: “in case they miss his meaning, [Jesus] adds his own story of recent calamity and repeats his point: tragedy is not a punishment for sin. Good news. Sort of.

“Because some calamity is a result of sin. What if the wall Jesus references was built by a fraudulent contractor (my guess is they had those back in the first century too)? There are all kinds of bad behaviors, in fact, that contribute to much of the misery in the world.”

“But notice that Jesus doesn’t sever the connection between sin and calamity. He severs the connection between calamity and punishment. “Do you think they were worse sinners than all the others? No. No worse than you.” [2]

Yes, some tragedies are intensely sad, sometimes incomprehensible. I think of things like shuddering earthquakes, massive floods, raging wildfires, and blinding blizzards. People are perpetually caught in the cycle of poverty. Children get terminal cancer. My friend Pastor Joe had a congenital eye disease, and now is completely blind. Jesus reminds us that people are not “punished” through these catastrophes. However, countless people mourn their losses and lament the passing of loved ones and strangers, alike.

Figuring out those catastrophic things is just not in our job description. It’s beyond our pay grade. We don’t need to worry about that kind of stuff. Worry and concern applies to many situations and problems in our lives. Or, rather, NOT being worried or concerned. Maybe it’s us recognizing what is beyond our control, and that is ultimately a beneficial thing.  

Remember the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Perhaps it is best for us to return to the sentence of the day from the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Or, to be more understandable, from Eugene Peterson: “Do what’s best—as You do above, so do here below.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Ultimately, even if we do not understand stuff, God has it handled. God is working everything out. Everything is in God’s hands, and that is the very best place to be—in this world, and the next.

[1] https://revgalblogpals.org/2019/03/19/revised-common-lectionary-beyond-understanding/

by Katya Ouchakof, March 19, 2019

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2461

“When Bad Things Happen,” David Lose, Working Preacher, 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!

God Delivers Us from Evil

“God Delivers Us from Evil”

Psa 27 1-3 afraid, fear

Psalm 27:1-3 – March 17, 2019

I often stay up late at night. My light is often burning way past midnight. (If you don’t believe me, ask Sunny. She can attest to the time stamp on many of my emails being past midnight, and some 1:00, even 2:00 am.) Imagine my huge shock and horror in the wee hours of Friday morning when I saw coming across the computer news feed that there had been a mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand. I was absolutely devastated. Talk about shocking me out of my security and complacency!

That is the portion of the Lord’s Prayer we are focusing on this week: deliver us from evil. Please, Lord! Right now!

So many faced such evil, such horror, and such sorrow in the town of Christchurch, and all New Zealand just two days ago. Imagine, if you will, two peaceful congregations, coming together for their midday time of prayer, abruptly torn apart by semi-automatic weapon fire. Is it any wonder many people around the world cannot even visualize such an attack? What on earth? Dear Lord! Deliver us from evil!

As soon as news of this horrific shooting started to come across my computer screen, you’d better believe I checked out my various favorite go-to news sites, including the BBC News. Yes, the news was even worse than I had heard or feared. And, the death toll was rising. So were my shock, dismay and horror at the rapidly developing story.

As we consider our Scripture reading from the Psalms this morning, we can flee to the assurance and strength of the first verse of Psalm 27: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; I will fear no one. The Lord protects me from all danger; I will never be afraid.”  I read these words and take heart. God is the source of my—our strength. God is our light, and we need no other light source. God is our protection and our protector. I—we—all of us need no one else.

But, wait, Lord! You didn’t mean that You would protect me from a domestic terrorist with a semi-automatic rifle!  Did You?

Even though the conception of a semi-automatic rifle was not even thought of at the time the psalm writer put pen to paper and wrote this psalm, that is the gist of verses 2 and 3: When evil people attack me and try to kill me, they stumble and fall. Even if a whole army surrounds me, I will not be afraid; even if enemies attack me, I will still trust God.”

King David is said to be the author of this Psalm, and I can believe it. David certainly knew quite a bit about having evil people try to attack him. Not only when he was young, before he even met Goliath on the field of battle, he was shepherd for his family’s flocks. He knew the many dangers a sheep or goat could face in the rocky, semi-arid pastures in the country of Israel. He was their shepherd, and he would need to rescue them when they got into trouble.

Then, when David was secretly anointed king and needed to run from the previous-but-still-on-the-throne King Saul, his fear and anxiety had the opportunity to shift into high gear. King Saul wanted to kill David. Literally. Seriously. Saul sent regular armed parties into the wilderness of Israel specifically to kill David. I am amazed that David could even write these words: “even if enemies attack me, I will still trust God.”

Dr. Beth Tanner, commentator on Psalm 27, writes “With all of the violence in our world, Christians are faced almost daily with a decision to live in fear, or despite their fear, to trust in God and God’s promises. To choose to remain true to God’s principles of hospitality feels frightening as well. Terrorists and Refugees come from the same places.” [1]

Gangs of fierce, armed men hunting you down, repeatedly? Frightening, indeed.

If we consider our problems today, whatever the specific problem is, we can draw some insight from this psalm. It’s clear that the person composing this prayer—King David—is afraid. “And yet, right in the middle of his expressions of fear, the Psalmist also declares his confident faith that God’s presence is like a light that keeps him safe.  So, he seeks God’s presence in the place where the people of Israel of his day believed God could be found: in the Temple.” [2] In the same way, we can seek the Lord where we know God is to be found: in the sanctuary, with other believers, and in meditation and prayer.

A number of these peaceful people at prayer on Friday were refugees from war-torn countries. They had fled their home countries of Somalia, Syria and Iraq—just to name a few—and had finally found sanctuary in the peaceful, beautiful town of Christchurch. New Zealand has truly gorgeous scenery, and a wonderful, equitable society of friendly people.

Not the kind of place one would expect for a domestic terror attack, certainly.

Yet, to run away, to leave almost everything you found dear and loved with all your heart, to come to a foreign land, no matter how pretty, Such heartache, and such desperation. And finally, to be getting back on your feet and finding a new home, just to have your place of worship abruptly, shockingly invaded. Get all shot up.

Dear God, deliver us from Evil, personified.

Dr. Tanner goes on to say: “Gun violence comes out of nowhere and even those places we considered safe are safe no longer. Fear threatens to defeat the gifts of trust and hospitality. The feeling of the psalm is the same.” [3]  It does not matter whether we ask to be delivered from evil things or evil people, from evil personified or evil within our own hearts. This psalm gives the message that we can depend on God as our light, our safety, our security, our salvation. And, if we depend on God, what more sure defender and protector do we need?

Jesus speaks to the city of Jerusalem rhetorically in the Gospel reading from Luke today: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets, you stone the messengers God has sent you! How many times I wanted to put my arms around all your people, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me!” Jesus speaks of the image of a mother hen fluffing up her feathers and gathering her chicks to safety, under her wings. Such a wonderful maternal image! And, such an encouragement and comfort in times of trouble.

It doesn’t matter what evil approaches, what danger comes quickly. If we are gathered under the wings of Jesus as our mother hen, we will be safe and cared for—now, and wherever we go with our Lord.

May it be so, Lord. Amen.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2777

Commentary, Psalm 27 (Lent 2C), Beth L. Tanner, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2016

[2] http://thewakingdreamer.blogspot.com/2014/01/what-do-we-have-to-fear.html

“What Do We Have To Fear?” Alan Brehm, The Waking Dreamer, 2016.

[3] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2777

Commentary, Psalm 27 (Lent 2C), Beth L. Tanner, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 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!