Generous with Our Faith

“Generous with Our Faith” – March 29, 2015

Jesus raising Lazarus John 11

John 11:25-27

Some people strive to be punctual. Even, early. My grandfather was like that. If he wasn’t fifteen minutes early for an appointment, he would consider himself late! Then, some people have a more fluid idea of time. They see a more relaxed framework of the spectrum of late- versus-early. These come down at different points on this spectrum. And then, we have Jesus.

Our Gospel reading is quite long today, from the 11th chapter of the Gospel of John. I wanted to read this whole passage in the context of this sermon. At the beginning of the reading, we have Jesus and His disciples, some distance from the town of Bethany, where His friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived. Let me set the scene. I will be using the awesome, modern version of the Gospel, translated by Eugene Peterson, called The Message.

1-3 A man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. This was the same Mary who massaged the Lord’s feet with aromatic oils and then wiped them with her hair. It was her brother Lazarus who was sick. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Master, the one you love so very much is sick.”

When Jesus got the message, he said, “This sickness is not fatal. It will become an occasion to show God’s glory by glorifying God’s Son.”

5-7 Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, but oddly, when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed on where he was for two more days.

 

Here’s the situation in Bethany. We receive quite a lot of information here! Jesus was very close to all three siblings, to Lazarus, Mary and Martha. Lazarus became very sick! So sick, that his sisters sent an emergency message, a call for help, to Jesus. The request to Jesus has been made. A sincere request, made by the loved ones of Lazarus. I suspect we all can relate to this earnest request. We’ve made similar prayers from time to time. Any number of us have sent SOS messages to Jesus, too!

Jesus made mention of showing God’s glory through Lazarus’ sickness. Obviously, He made this comment to His disciples, and I suspect to whomever else was there, listening to Him, at the time. And, as was often the case with Jesus and some of the cryptic things He said, people just did not understand what He meant, at the time. Back to Jesus:

After the two days, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.” They said, “Rabbi, you can’t do that. The Jews are out to kill you, and you’re going back?” 11 Jesus replied, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep. I’m going to wake him up.”

12-13 The disciples said, “Master, if he’s gone to sleep, he’ll get a good rest and wake up feeling fine.” Jesus was talking about death, while his disciples thought he was talking about taking a nap.

14-15 Then Jesus became explicit: “Lazarus died. And I am glad for your sakes that I wasn’t there. You’re about to be given new grounds for believing. Now let’s go to him.”

Jesus knows. I mean, Jesus really knows the situation some miles away. His disciples are confused, and at first think Lazarus is just asleep. But, no! Is this a major complication, or what? Sure, there are miracles all over the Old and New Testaments, but miracles of healing, or of feeding large groups of people. Not of reversing death itself! And, especially, after several days!

On top of the disciples’ confusion at the words and behavior of Jesus, Jesus wants to go back to Bethany, which is a town just down the road from Jerusalem. “Jesus, You can’t go there! The Jewish leaders are going to arrest You. Probably try to kill You, too!” Jesus goes anyway.

17-20 When Jesus finally got there, he found Lazarus already four days dead. Bethany was near Jerusalem, only a couple of miles away, and many of the Jews were visiting Martha and Mary, sympathizing with them over their brother. Martha heard Jesus was coming and went out to meet him. Mary remained in the house.

We see Mary and Martha, in the house of mourning. Two very different women, mourning in two very different ways. Many of their friends and acquaintances are with them, too. Sympathizing and mourning with them, as was the custom of the time. Martha goes to meet Jesus while her sister stays put.

21-22 Martha said, “Master, if you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. Even now, I know that whatever you ask God he will give you.”

23 Jesus said, “Your brother will be raised up.”

24 Martha replied, “I know that he will be raised up in the resurrection at the end of time.”

25-26 “You don’t have to wait for the End. I am, right now, Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all. Do you believe this?”

27 “Yes, Master. All along I have believed that you are the Messiah, the Son of God who comes into the world.”

What a statement! What a testimony! Even though Martha is distraught at the death of her dear brother, she still has deep faith. As we’ve just heard, she states that her brother will be raised in the resurrection at the end of time. What does Jesus say? He does her one better.

I am the Resurrection and the Life.” Did you hear? Did everyone hear these words of faith? Words of hope? Words of new life? “The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live.” And then Martha responds again, with great faith. “All along I have believed that you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”

I could preach a solid sermon on this statement of Martha’s, alone. This ringing declaration, these great words of a rock-solid faith were made at such a devastating time for Martha. On top of everything, in the middle of mourning her brother, we can see that this is not just an intellectual admission or assent for Martha, but heartfelt belief. But wait, there’s more! Much more!

28 After saying this, Martha went to her sister Mary and whispered in her ear, “The Teacher is here and is asking for you.”

29-32 The moment Mary heard that, she jumped up and ran out to him. Jesus had not yet entered the town but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When her sympathizing Jewish friends saw Mary run off, they followed her, thinking she was on her way to the tomb to weep there. Mary came to where Jesus was waiting and fell at his feet, saying, “Master, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33-34 When Jesus saw her sobbing and the Jews with her sobbing, a deep anger welled up within him. He said, “Where did you put him?”

34-35 “Master, come and see,” they said. Now Jesus wept. 36 The Jews said, “Look how deeply he loved him.”

37 Others among them said, “Well, if he loved him so much, why didn’t he do something to keep him from dying? After all, he opened the eyes of a blind man.”

We can tell, from these few scenes in the Gospel, that Martha, Mary and Lazarus had a close, intimate relationship. Mary even fell at Jesus’ feet, sobbing. Saying, “if only! If only You had been here!” The words of deep, gut-wrenching emotion are here, too. “Jesus wept.” We know that Jesus felt with Mary and Martha! We can see from this account that Jesus felt so badly and grieved with them, even though He knew what He was intending to do!

How often do we get into a situation where we have the opportunity to come alongside of someone who is devastated, a friend, a relative. Grieve alongside of them, and walk with them down that sorrowful road of mourning, loss, anger, anxiety. Grieve over the deep pain and loss in the reality of death. That’s why I think Jesus cried with Mary. And with Martha, and with the rest of the mourning people. Back to Jesus.

38-39 Then Jesus, the anger again welling up within him, arrived at the tomb. It was a simple cave in the hillside with a slab of stone laid against it. Jesus said, “Remove the stone.”

The sister of the dead man, Martha, said, “Master, by this time there’s a stench. He’s been dead four days!”

40 Jesus looked her in the eye. “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41-42 Then, to the others, “Go ahead, take away the stone.”

Practical Martha. “Master, by this time there’s a stench. He’s been dead four days.” Wouldn’t that be something you might think of, too? I probably would have thought of it, too.

They removed the stone. Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and prayed, “Father, I’m grateful that you have listened to me. I know you always do listen, but on account of this crowd standing here I’ve spoken aloud so that they might believe that you sent me.”

43-44 Then he shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And he came out, a cadaver, wrapped from head to toe, and with a kerchief over his face. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him loose.”

45-48 That was a turnaround for many of the Jews who were with Mary. They saw what Jesus did, and believed in him.

 

Because of this display of resurrection power, because Lazarus was brought back to life, we see that many believed that Jesus was, indeed, the Messiah! The Son of God!

Let me ask: what do you believe? Do you think Jesus was just a great man? Did He preach great sermons, and live an exemplary life? Or, do you think Jesus was a prophet of God? A miracle-worker, like the prophets of the Old Testament, or like the Apostles? Or, the third option. Or—do you think Jesus was, indeed, the Messiah? The Son of God? As Jesus Himself said, the Resurrection and the Life?

Hear the words of Jesus! “The one who believes in Me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in Me does not ultimately die at all. Do you believe this?” Just as Jesus asked Martha so long ago, He is asking us, today, too. Can we respond with Martha, “Yes, Master. Yes, Lord. I believe.” With great faith. “All along I have believed that you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus is asking. Do we, really, believe?

Jesus was generous, giving life abundantly to Lazarus. Can we do any less in our lives? We are encouraged to be generous with our faith! To believe Jesus. To take Him at His word, and to trust in Him. Like Martha. Like Mary. We find out that we can believe Him, we can trust Jesus when times are hard, difficult, through storms and suffering. We are also happy to trust Jesus when times are happy, when everything is going our way. Whatever is happening in your life today, can you believe Jesus? Can you be generous? Believe the good news of the Gospel. Have faith! Believe Jesus!

 

Thanks to Eugene Peterson for his wonderful translation The Message. I read most of John chapter 11, around which I have interwoven this message. “Scripture taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.”

@chaplaineliza

Thanks to the kind friends at http://www.40acts.org.uk – I am using their sermon suggestions for Lent 2015. #40acts Do Lent generously!

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. Thanks!)

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Generous With Our Hearts

“Generous With Our Hearts”

Jesus heals son of royal official John 4

John 4:50 – March 22, 2015

Important people are just that—important! Ever try to see one, face to face? Sometimes we go through a receptionist, or an administrative assistant. Make several telephone calls, or emails, and confirm the appointment? It can be really difficult, just getting the attention, being squeezed into the schedule of a very important person.

That’s the situation we are faced with in our scripture reading today. The two main characters are a royal official, a very important person. He was reputed to be important—a big man, regionally known. And, the Rabbi Jesus. Let me remind everyone again: this was the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry in the area around Galilee, so Jesus was not very widely known, yet.

Can we compare this VIP situation to any parallels today? Do we know any very important people, in our workplaces, neighborhoods or schools? How about a school principal? A very busy person! What about our town’s mayor, or the local state representative? Again, really important people. What about your company’s president, or CEO? These all are people who pull a lot of weight, who have a great deal of responsibility.

Let’s go back to this reading from the Gospel of John. The royal official here in Chapter 4 has a big problem. He has a sick son. A really sick son. No matter how important the official was, he was a father, at the same time. And his son was really sick.

How about important people, today? A school principal, a town mayor or local state representative? A company’s president? Sure, each of them might pull a lot of weight and shoulder a great deal of responsibility. But—each of them has loved ones. Any of the loved ones may very well get sick. And sometimes, get really sick. What the Gospel writer tells us about this royal official is that he was a very concerned parent. A good, loving parent.

Those of us who are parents or grandparents or uncles or aunts know about the anguish and pain of having a sick relative. Especially, a sick child. This congregation knows the concern and the time and the many, earnest prayers that have been offered for loved ones from our church. In the year that I have been here, I can think of several, including our miracle big boy, L! And, Sunny’s friend B. These children’s parents and other loved ones went all out to get help for their dear children.

This royal official in our reading today is no different. He was so concerned about his son! The Gospel reading states that the ailing son was close to death. The father dropped everything! Everything in his very busy, very important schedule! The official took the time to seek out Jesus, and travel for a whole day, way out of his way, to beg for this man’s help.

Let’s focus on Jesus, for a moment. A miracle-worker, Jesus is called. Here He is, back in His home town. Still in the area where there were people who knew Jesus’ family. I would like to remind everyone—in verse 44, “Jesus Himself had pointed out that a prophet has no honor in His own country.” Jesus had been welcomed back into the area after He turned the water into wine, but many people remembered Him as the boy and young man He once had been, before He became a Rabbi.

Plus, I suspect certain people merely wanted more miracles. Many just wanted to see a dog-and-pony show, and ooh and ahh over the flash and dazzle, the miracles, the signs from God.

What about this royal official? This very important man from Capernaum? Even though he may have—initially—scoffed at the reports of Jesus doing miracles, especially turning water to wine, by this point he is desperate. He dropped everything and traveled for a whole day to come and see Jesus! He had a genuine need—that is, his son was close to death. He begs and pleads for Jesus to accompany him back to Capernaum.

Today, so many of us have friends who are sick, or loved ones in the hospital or rehab centers, or at home. Sure, our world is broken. As our friends from the website #40acts mention, no one is exempt from pain and sorrow. Many, many people become ill, some chronically, even permanently ill. Death is an integral part of the human experience. We all are born. We all die. As my acquaintance Rabbi Joe said, “We all have an expiration date.”

Yet, this royal official had hope! This royal official came rushing up to Jesus. Can you just see their encounter? Perhaps in the middle of the street, or in the town marketplace.

We might think Jesus’ response is out of left field. What? What is He talking about? “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told the official, “you will never believe.” One of the most interesting parts about this response is how Jesus says it. In Greek, the word “you” is plural. Let me say it again, a bit more colloquially. “Unless y’all-people see signs and wonders, y’all will never believe.” Now, I think Jesus made this statement in a public place, with a bunch of people around. He wasn’t just talking to the official. No! Jesus was addressing a group. Y’all.

We see the official begging. He pleads with Jesus to come with him, to heal his sick son. “Sir, come with me before my child dies.” This very important person is a father with a genuine need, a father whose heart is breaking with worry and anxiety about his son. And Jesus? His internal compass always turns toward those whose hearts are breaking. Jesus’ response to the official? “Go. Your son will live.”

The official was able—through the veil of great worry and anxiety over his son—to really hear Jesus’ words. Moreover, this father was able to take Jesus at His word and go home. He may have been wondering exactly who Jesus was. A prophet? “Did Jesus hear a message from God that my son would be healed?” Or, perhaps, even, the Messiah? “Did this Rabbi Jesus cause my son to become well through a miracle?” Regardless, the official started back to Capernaum.

Let’s hear verses 51 to 53 again. While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. 52 When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.” 53 Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and his whole household believed.

Wow! And again I say, wow! We can see that this official did not come to Jesus with false motives, or just wanting to see a miracle-worker. On top of this, the official willingly left when Jesus told him the boy had been healed—long distance, no less! Then, when his servants confirmed the healing sometime later, this father—this official knew for sure. Jesus performed a miracle. A sign from God. The official believed Jesus, and so did the rest of his household.

Is Jesus ready to meet us in our distress? In the middle of our pain and sorrow? I think you know the answer to that. Jesus is ready to meet us, to walk with us, in all these situations. Does anyone have sick loved ones? Jesus is there, at your side. How about pain and sorrow in life? Jesus will walk next to you, keeping you company. Does the world seem broken, and as if it will never be fixed? Jesus is ready to meet us, to help us pick up the broken pieces. To encourage, support, and heal in any one of a number of ways.

Just as this official did something right–he came to Jesus when he was in genuine need! So, we are invited to come to Jesus when we have needs, too. Jesus can heal our broken hearts, just as much as He can heal our broken world. Plus, we can reach out and allow Jesus to use our hands, our feet, our voices to come alongside of others, too! We can be partners with Jesus, to help others. Just like Jesus, we can see needs around us and respond from our hearts. Respond with generosity and kindness. May it be so! Praise God, amen!

@chaplaineliza

Thanks to the kind friends at http://www.40acts.org.uk – I am using their sermon suggestions for Lent 2015. Do Lent generously!

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. Thanks!)

Generous With Our Words

“Generous With Our Words”

Jesus cures the blind man John 9

John 9:38 – March 15, 2015

In our sermon today, we are going to consider a situation where Jesus met a man who was born blind, and healed him. Miraculously! I could preach an awesome sermon on the blind man, or on the healing. But I want us to look at the aftermath of the healing. As we consider this man, I would like you to think about his lonely, isolated, marginalized situation, too.

I want to read chapter 9, from the Gospel of John. I’ll be reading from a modern translation called “The Message,” by Eugene Peterson.

True Blindness

1-2 Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?”

3-5 Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over. For as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light. I am the world’s Light.”

6-7 Jesus said this and then spit in the dust, made a clay paste with the saliva, rubbed the paste on the blind man’s eyes, and said, “Go, wash at the Pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “Sent”). The man went and washed—and saw.

 

The Rabbi Jesus performed another miracle! And this time, He healed a man who had a dark cloud over his head. The man was born blind. He had never, ever been able to see anything. We can tell how he was isolated. Shunned. And like I just read, certain people blamed the man for being born blind. “Well, he must have done something to be born that way!” Treated in that way, we can see how he was marginalized! Other people blamed his parents. “Serves them right! Look at them, having a child born blind! Just a nuisance, a drag on them and their lives.”

Isn’t that like some people today? Isolating, shunning, marginalizing people because of some seeming disability. What kinds of negative, judgmental things are they thinking of? Whose cynical words are they paying attention to? Are they like the disciples, or the other townspeople, listening to their own preconceived, sometimes faulty judgments?

Let’s hear what happens next, in our reading today.

Soon the town was buzzing. His relatives and those who year after year had seen him as a blind man begging were saying, “Why, isn’t this the man we knew, who sat here and begged?”

Others said, “It’s him all right!” But others objected, “It’s not the same man at all. It just looks like him.” He kept saying, “It’s me, the very one.”

10 They said, “How did your eyes get opened?”

11 “A man named Jesus made a paste and rubbed it on my eyes and told me, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash.’ I did what he said. When I washed, I saw.”

12 “So where is he?” “I don’t know.”

We can hear the disbelief of everyone in the town. The townspeople were arguing! Some said this guy was the blind man. Others said he couldn’t be. He, himself, kept on saying, “Yes, I am! I’m the one! It’s me, the very guy!”

The former blind man’s words showed he was fully aware of what it was like, what happened, and what it’s like now. He knew very well how he had regained his sight! And after the healing, Jesus was nowhere to be found. Let’s continue. See what happens next!

13-15 They marched the man to the Pharisees. This day when Jesus made the paste and healed his blindness was the Sabbath. The Pharisees grilled him again on how he had come to see. He said, “He put a clay paste on my eyes, and I washed, and now I see.”

16 Some of the Pharisees said, “Obviously, this man can’t be from God. He doesn’t keep the Sabbath.”

Others countered, “How can a bad man do miraculous, God-revealing things like this?” There was a split in their ranks.

                We see the Pharisees as official, religious people of the town. They were the ‘judges’ or ‘experts’ for all things religious, in their day. They ruled on proper behavior and correct rule-keeping, as far as everyone’s daily lives were concerned. The Pharisees were meticulous in following the Mosaic Law code! You had better believe they made sure that everyone else followed the law code just as closely as they did, or else everyone would hear about it!

We know the blind man had been begging outside the Temple for years. However, the religious leaders had paid so little attention to him! Now that he had sight, they did not recognize him when he was not in his usual place, begging. The Pharisees had never even noticed him, a person, except to toss a few coins in his cup. This blind guy was totally marginalized, even shunned. Jesus on the other hand, saw him and paid attention to him.  He treated the man as a real, worthwhile person. In response to his need, Jesus healed him. And was promptly criticized.

17 The Pharisees came back at the blind man, “You’re the expert. He opened your eyes. What do you say about him?”

He said, “He is a prophet.”

18-19 The Jews didn’t believe it, didn’t believe the man was blind to begin with. So they called the parents of the man now bright-eyed with sight. They asked them, “Is this your son, the one you say was born blind? So how is it that he now sees?”

20-23 His parents said, “We know he is our son, and we know he was born blind. But we don’t know how he came to see—haven’t a clue about who opened his eyes. Why don’t you ask him? He’s a grown man and can speak for himself.” (His parents were talking like this because they were intimidated by the Jewish leaders, who had already decided that anyone who took a stand that this was the Messiah would be kicked out of the meeting place. That’s why his parents said, “Ask him. He’s a grown man.”)

In this specific case of the formerly-blind man, the Pharisees carefully investigated this guy. They brought questioning words, and made cynical, unbelieving comments. Plus, we can see how the super-religious people intimidated the townspeople, not to mention the blind man’s parents. The leaders badgered them into saying that this healing Rabbi Jesus was definitely not the Messiah. The townspeople listened to their own fears. They didn’t want to be ostracized, too!

The judgmental attitude of the religious leaders was aided by their skeptical, angry words, capped by. “This man can’t heal on the Sabbath! This man can’t possibly be from God!” The Pharisees were blinded by their meticulous rule-keeping. They were hindered from seeing the marvels of God and God’s miraculous working. But, back to the reading.

24 The Pharisees called the man back a second time—the man who had been blind—and told him, “Give credit to God. We know this man is an impostor.”

25 He replied, “I know nothing about that one way or the other. But I know one thing for sure: I was blind . . . now I see.”

26 They said, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

27 “I’ve told you over and over and you haven’t listened. Why do you want to hear it again? Are you so eager to become his disciples?”

28-29 With that they jumped all over him. “You might be a disciple of that man, but we’re disciples of Moses. We know for sure that God spoke to Moses, but we have no idea where this man even comes from.”

30-33 The man replied, “This is amazing! You claim to know nothing about him, but the fact is, he opened my eyes! It’s well known that God isn’t at the beck and call of sinners, but listens carefully to anyone who lives in reverence and does his will. That someone opened the eyes of a man born blind has never been heard of—ever. If this man didn’t come from God, he wouldn’t be able to do anything.”

34 They said, “You’re nothing but dirt! How dare you take that tone with us!” Then they threw him out in the street.

35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and went and found him. He asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

36 The man said, “Point him out to me, sir, so that I can believe in him.”

37 Jesus said, “You’re looking right at him. Don’t you recognize my voice?”

38 “Master, I believe,” the man said, and worshiped him.

39 Jesus then said, “I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see, and those who have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind.”

40 Some Pharisees overheard him and said, “Does that mean you’re calling us blind?”

41 Jesus said, “If you were really blind, you would be blameless, but since you claim to see everything so well, you’re accountable for every fault and failure.”

In the final act of this chapter, we see the former blind man meeting Jesus. He had already mentioned the miracle-working power of the Rabbi Jesus to the Pharisees, and was thrown out on his ear for his bold statements. Then, he runs into Jesus. Remember, he had never seen Jesus before. Only heard Him. What do you know, the man addresses Jesus with believing words! The former blind man’s eyes were opened in a number of ways!

Just as the townspeople and the Pharisees were blinded by their fears, skepticism, and preconceived notions, the same thing might very well happen to us today. We can strive to be like the man born blind, who gave witness, and told the religious leaders what happened after he was healed. The man sees what Jesus has done, and gives Jesus believing words, too! Speaking up for Jesus! Can we speak up for Jesus? Or will we hide in a corner? Can we offer each other generous, positive, God-focused words? Or, will we keep quiet, be timid, duck our heads and run away? This is a challenge all of us can listen to today.

Thank God, we can offer each other encouraging words! Generous words! Positive, God-honoring words! Just like the formerly blind man. We, too, can say we believe Jesus. Praise God! Amen.

 

Thanks to Eugene Peterson for his wonderful translation The Message. I quoted John chapter 9, around which I have interwoven this message.

@chaplaineliza

Thanks to the kind friends at http://www.40acts.org.uk – I am using their sermon suggestions for Lent 2015. Do Lent generously!

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. Thanks!)

“Generous With Our Possessions”

“Generous With Our Possessions”

fish, bread and wheat photo credit - Jerry Bridges

fish, bread and wheat
photo credit – Jerry Bridges

John 6:12-14 – March 8, 2015

A memorable picture book I dearly remember from my childhood is called “Stone Soup.” I remember reading it to my children, too. This story is about a small village in Europe after the wars, several hundred years ago. The villagers are frightened of strangers. As a result, they are tight-fisted, and keep their precious food to themselves. They hide the food, until coaxed to bring it out; be generous and share it all together. And then, all the village has a wonderful feast.

Our Gospel reading today from John 6 has a similar sort of idea. Someone is generous, and food is shared. Jesus blesses the food, multiplies it, and all the people end up having a wonderful feast.

In today’s Scripture reading—which appears in all four Gospels, by the way—we see Jesus and His disciples traveling far away from town, to pray. Far away from a ready source of food. Yet, here comes a huge crowd of people, pursuing Jesus!

I am not certain why they are coming after Him. Perhaps it’s because the Rabbi Jesus has been healing so many people. Perhaps some of these are disabled, deaf, or sick. Maybe some of them are poor, and want to hear what the great Rabbi has to say. Maybe some are wondering whether this charismatic rabbi could possibly be a Messiah, a political leader!

Can you see the hungry crowd? Can you hear their hungry cries? Can you understand the hunger—yes, immediate and physical, but also spiritual! I suspect that Jesus knew all of these reasons, and all of these expectations. I know He understood the deep hunger of their souls.

Jesus sees the crowd, too! The Gospel has recorded an exchange He had with his disciples Philip and Andrew. Jesus asks Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” I can just see Philip, serious and earnest, rapidly trying to figure out how on earth they are to feed several thousand people on a moment’s notice! I can just hear what he might say: “This feeding thing? Much too expensive! We couldn’t possibly afford it!” Or, perhaps, “This feeding thing? We don’t have enough volunteers! And the budget won’t stretch that far. Not by a long shot!” And what about even, “Not again, Jesus! You are setting a negative precedent with this kind of free hand-outs.” I don’t want to diminish Philip’s practical concerns, at all! Quite valid, and absolutely understandable.

When you and I are uncertain, anxious, or afraid about practical concerns, what is our response? What would we say if we were asked a similar question? “Where shall we buy bread for this huge crowd of people to eat?” Would we get uncertain or anxious? Are we overwhelmed by the massive size of the crowd? Would we freeze up? Perhaps even get angry, or bluster about? Jesus asked Philip—and us—a great question!

Turning to Andrew, he also responds to Jesus. Andrew has gone outside of the safe constraints of the well-intentioned church budget to uncharted territory. He has found a boy with a bag lunch, and the boy has offered his food to Jesus, to share.

Let’s step back and take a look at our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, from the book of 2 Kings. The prophet Elisha is called upon to perform a miracle of feeding. There are obvious parallels, too. Someone comes up with a small offering of food. A bag lunch, again. Barley loaves—what a poor person might eat—is the bread in question. Even the question from Elisha’s disciple and Jesus’ disciple is similar: “How far will they go among so many?”

How many times are we overwhelmed with the problems we face today? Anxious because of the lack of resources, volunteers, or finances? We see so many today striving to get enough to eat. Unemployed people and their families lining up for food at the food pantries—like Maine Township Food Pantry. We realize God promises us abundance and generosity repeatedly in the Scripture. How on earth will this be accomplished? We ask—what is Jesus going to do?

We can praise God! Jesus knew very well what He was planning to do. He accepted the boy’s gift of the bag lunch. The boy was generous! And he willingly gave his food to Jesus.

Just a minute! Richard Niell Donovan poses the question: “What if the boy were unwilling to share his lunch? What if he were to say, ‘I need this for myself’ – or ‘My little bit won’t make any difference’?” (How many times have we uttered these words to ourselves or to those with whom we serve in ministry? Or, in Church Council? Or in the congregation?)

The unnamed boy here turns his food over to Jesus. I can just see him, giving Jesus the little lunch, perhaps wrapped in a cloth by his mother that morning. He empties the food from his hands into those of Jesus. Jesus turns around, blesses the food, and miraculously multiplies it to feed thousands of people.

What about us? Are we frightened and fearful, like the villagers in the picture book “Stone Soup?” Are we hesitant to share our food, our resources, our money, time and talents with Jesus? Jesus can take what we offer and turn it into such abundance! Just as the boy was generous and turned over his lunch, look at what a marvel Jesus did with that!

We don’t know what happened to this boy afterwards, either. Can you imagine this event becoming the defining event in his life? Imagine, the Rabbi Jesus took his lunch and multiplied it into enough to serve 5000 men! Plus women and children? I suspect that once this boy has seen Jesus work a miracle—perhaps right in front of this boy’s very eyes!—that this boy’s life was never the same.

Jesus transforms the bag lunch, the little bit that was generously offered, into the more-than-enough. Biblical commentator William Barclay writes, “There would have been one great and shining deed fewer in history if that boy had refused to come or if he had withheld his loaves and fishes. The fact of life is that Jesus Christ needs what we can bring Him. We may not have much to bring but He needs what we have.”

As Jesus’ followers today, we are also invited to be generous. To see God’s abundance, and to stretch our hearts, minds, and hands. Not like the disciples, who were constrained by practical problems, economic and logistical drawbacks. They couldn’t see that God wants people to be open to God’s working, and willing to serve. Willing to be generous with whatever they have to offer.

Suppose I took a one dollar bill. Here. ( holds up bill ) Suppose each one of you were to donate one dollar to the food pantry. We would have a pile of ones collected after the service. That’s something. Now, suppose I were to take a five dollar bill. Here. ( holds up bill ) Suppose each one of us were to donate five dollars, and we took a collection for the food pantry. We would have a large pile of fives after the service, and a nice freewill donation for the pantry, besides!

Everyone has something to offer. If each of us gives our little bit, and we gather it all together, it turns out to be a whole lot! Not only food, but time. Talents. Money, when possible. In addition, what about prayer? Some of us have the gift of praying. too! We can pray for those who are hungry. Pray that they may know God’s abundance—through our generosity, as well!

All life and all good gifts come from God. Jesus comes to open our hearts, our hands and our minds to those around us, especially to those in need. We can do that only because Jesus also comes to open our hearts, minds and eyes to His own presence in our midst. May God increase our generosity! And may God increase our love and caring for all who hunger after the abundance that Jesus offers.

Thanks to the friends at the website “Radical Gratitude,” www.umfnw.org, Stewardship Emphasis, and Tanya Barnett for several ideas that I have interwoven into this message.

@chaplaineliza

Thanks to the kind friends at http://www.40acts.org.uk – I am using their sermon suggestions for Lent 2015. Do Lent generously!

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. Thanks!)

Generous With Our Actions

“Generous With Our Actions”  (delivered at St. Luke’s Church, Morton Grove, Illinois)

John 5:8-9 – March 1, 2015

Ever know someone who is a pessimist? A sad sack? Always down in the mouth? Things constantly seem to go wrong for this poor guy! (Or, girl, depending.) Our Gospel reading has someone who seems to typify this type of person. I am talking about a starring character in this passage from John Chapter 5.

Let’s set the scene. Here we are, in Jerusalem. The Rabbi Jesus came to the city periodically. He was an itinerant rabbi, after all, traveling through Galilee, Judea, even Samaria. Jesus and His followers came to the capital city to worship at the Temple on a regular basis. While Jesus and His friends were walking by a famous healing pool called Bethesda, Jesus must have seen a great number of people who were sick, lame, and otherwise disabled.

According to one of my commentaries, the famous pool was placed right over a stream which still flowed underneath the city of Jerusalem. That reminds me of something we have in abundance here—water! Little streams and waterways flow right through this whole area of Morton Grove, a former wetlands area. Our trustee Bob tells me we have a small section of the church parking lot where there is a source of water underneath. Last summer, when the parking lot was stripped and repaved, the water started bubbling up.

So, I can relate, in part, to this reading. Apparently, the underground stream beneath the pool of Bethesda made the waters of the pool bubble up periodically. And, the folklore of that area had a tale to explain the bubbling. An angel came and stirred the water around. Made it bubble up. The first person in the water after the bubbling was healed! Or so the local tale of healing went. So, many blind, lame, or paralyzed people used to sit or lie on the sides of the pool, just waiting for the next time the waters were stirred up.

It’s not uncommon for people who have various illnesses to gather around mineral springs. Think of the springs around Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee. Or, in our own country, of the waters of Hot Springs, Arkansas. Long before the Spaniards arrived on our shores, the waters already had a name for healing and being curative.

Let’s go back to the pool of Bethesda. There was a complication here. A snag. I am not sure exactly how Jesus found out about this particular man—out of all the poor people lying and waiting around the pool. Perhaps He was told about a particularly sad tale about a paralyzed man who had been lying there next to the pool for thirty-eight years. Imagine! Thirty-eight years!

This is the man I was thinking about when I started my sermon. The sad sack. Nothing ever went right for this poor guy! I wouldn’t blame him for being depressed and disappointed with his life. Things certainly hadn’t been particularly rosy for this man. Not for a long time.

Let me ask again. Do you know anyone who often is pessimistic? Sad? Disappointed in life? Has life continued to give him—or youor me—only lemons? I know two people like this. One, in particular, always has problems with his house. He isn’t handy, so he regularly needs to call handymen. Or contractors. Or the plumber. If it isn’t one thing, it’s the other. And if it isn’t the house, it’s his car. Almost as if he was walking around underneath a portable raincloud. Raining on his head all the time. Or so it seems.

With a life full of sadness and disappointments, this paralyzed man who had been by the pool for thirty-eight years must have had huge barriers and blocks built up! Built up, at least, in his mind. In his expectations. In his whole demeanor. It’s how he lives. It’s his—sad—lot in life.

What does the Rabbi Jesus ask this man? John tells us Jesus knew the man had been lying there for a long time. But, listen closely to Jesus’ question: “Do you want to be made whole?”

Here’s one possible response, borrowed from a sermon by a fellow minister.

“No thanks, I think I’ll just stay here on my pallet and wait for the waters to ripple. I’ve been here 38 years and I know what to expect and I know all of the other people nearby. True, I’m probably not going to get better, but – you know – I’ve gotten used to being here. So, thanks all the same, Jesus, but I’ll just continue to lie here.” This kind of response from the man can be understandable.

Let’s go one step further and listen again to this middle-aged, perhaps even older paralyzed man grumbling to Jesus. “These young whippersnappers, lying next to the pool! Can you imagine, these young punks can get to the water before me! Then, they get healed! So, I’m always too late!” As we listen, we can hear this man’s chronic complaining, his excuses, his inability to get to the healing waters in time.

We come back to Jesus, again. Remember, He asked this man whether he wanted to be made whole. Essentially, whether he wanted to change. Change can be scary! Change can be different, even difficult—something this man has probably never experienced before! Lying by the pool? Waiting for the waters to bubble up? That’s what that paralyzed man knew, and knew well. Getting up, and being made whole?? That could be really scary for this man!

Jesus knew this man was scared. Tentative. Possibly, downright disbelieving. But—Jesus, being Jesus, knew exactly what this paralyzed man needed. He needed to get actively involved in his own healing! Not simply to be a passive recipient of Jesus’ gift of healing, His gift of generosity. So Jesus said, “Stand up. Take up your mat, and walk.” This man was to take an active part in his own healing process!

We don’t have a blow-by-blow report of exactly what happened as this man tottered to his feet, or how his muscles and ligaments were miraculously healed and renewed, so he could stand and walk again. All we do know is that what Jesus commanded, happened! Praise God!

Just as Jesus did not want this man to passively receive healing, in the same way, Jesus doesn’t want passive people today, people who just lie on the couch, or sit in the pew. He wants us—that’s all of us—to be active! Actively involved in responding in joy, meaning and purpose.

Just as the paralyzed man found his legs were strong, so we can start being active, and finding our legs are strong enough for us to walk—or even sit—beside others who are in pain and need help. Our arms are actively empowered to embrace our enemies and the outcasts. And remember the paralyzed man and his excuses? When we are actively involved in showing people the love and generosity of God, we no longer make excuses.

At this church, we have many ways for members and friends to be active! Actively involved in showing the generosity of Jesus. The Maine Township Food Pantry. By bringing a few cans or jars or boxes for the pantry and putting them in with the rest of the collection out in the narthex, that’s getting involved! What about the Diaper Pantry, our mission agency of the week? We can buy some diapers and drop them off in the collection barrel in the hallway. And, volunteering at the Kids Academy, the preschool here at the church during the week. Come ask me after the service, and I’ll be happy to give you further information. Those are just three of many excellent ways to actively get involved, and to show the love and generosity of God.

God encourages each of us to get up off our mats—off our pews, too. We can go out into the community, and serve others. Just as Jesus did for this paralyzed man, so we are encouraged to be actively generous to others. Like this formerly-paralyzed man, we, too, can walk forward to new life in Jesus Christ.

Praise God! Amen.

@chaplaineliza

Thanks to the kind friends at http://www.40acts.org.uk – I am using their sermon suggestions for Lent 2015. Do Lent generously!

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. Thanks!)