“We Must Obey God!”

“We Must Obey God!”

Acts 5-29 floral saying

Acts 5:12-29 – June 28, 2015

I remember an older documentary I saw on PBS about fifteen years ago, about classic comedy shorts. Tracing the history of comedy, I was introduced to a serious study of the silent comedy shorts of the teens and 1920’s. Including the Keystone Kops. I immediately recognized their wacky, incompetent ways as similar to other, more recent comedy acts I had seen. Running around, like chickens with their heads cut off. Bumbling, yet energetic, inevitably they would end up floundering around helplessly.

This reminded me so much of the Temple guards from our reading today.

You remember our Summer Sermon Series, from the book of Acts. Postcards from the Early Church. When last we left our intrepid heroes, Peter and the other apostles were regularly preaching in and around the Temple in Jerusalem. In the city center, getting lots of attention from all passersby. And especially getting negative attention from the Jewish leaders, the Sanhedrin.

Peter and his fellow apostles remind me of some modern-day radicals—I mean, street preachers. People like those calling for a living wage, or like those advocating for wider access to decent education for all people, or those clamoring for clergy accountability for hidden sexual abuse. Even though the Jewish authorities told Peter and company to pipe down! The disciples refused to do so. Just like the modern-day street preachers protesting today.

Remember, last week I talked about how those pesky, persistent disciples were like the carnival game Whack-a-Mole? How they kept popping up, all over the place, no matter how much the Jewish leaders whacked at them? Here they are again, those pesky, persistent preachers. This resistance was serious! This was major disruption!

Of course the Jewish leaders and Temple police needed to round up these pesky, disruptive upstarts!

We pick up the narrative at verse 17 of chapter 5 of Acts: “Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18 They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. 20 “Go, stand in the temple courts,” the angel said, “and tell the people all about this new life.” 21 At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.”

You heard it again, right here. An angel of the Lord supernaturally went into the prison by night, and miraculously released this group of men. (They probably all were men, in prison. Although, there were women disciples of the Risen Jesus, too!)

Next thing you know, the angel of the Lord told the disciples to continue to preach, and to continue spreading the good news. If I had just had an angel perform a miracle especially for me, chances are that I would listen to that angel, too!

Moreover, the disciples did not hightail it for the hills. Instead, they stayed put, in Jerusalem, and got right back in the thick of things.

Even though the Sanhedrin specifically told them NOT to preach any more, what do you think they are doing? You guessed it. They are out in the Temple again, and on the downtown street corners, preaching away. Telling everyone who would listen about the Risen Lord Jesus, the resurrected miracle-working Rabbi who rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father, God Almighty.

Despite being sternly told not to say a word about what had happened in Jerusalem in the past few weeks.

Now, let’s look at the flip side. The side of the Jewish leaders. Starting at verse 21: “When the high priest and his associates arrived [in the morning], they called together the Sanhedrin—the full assembly of the elders of Israel—and sent to the jail for the apostles. 22 But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, 23 “We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.” 24 On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were at a loss, wondering what this might lead to. 25 Then someone came and said, ‘Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.’”

I can’t help but keep going back to the Keystone Kops! The Temple guards and Jewish leaders, who threw all these guys in prison. Even the bars and locked doors couldn’t hold the disciples! As one commentary said, the opposition—the priestly establishment—could not stop these determined preachers. The guards’ and leaders’ befuddled incompetence highlights how useless it is to oppose God and God’s purposes.

Rev. Daniel B. Clendenin preached a sermon on this text from Acts 5 a few years ago. He noted that “in July 2003, Dominican nuns Ardeth Platte, Carol Gilbert and Jackie Hudson, members of a peace community in Baltimore called Jonah House, were sentenced to 34 months each in federal prison for sabotaging the national defense and damaging government property. They had protested nuclear weapons by smearing a cross on a Minuteman silo with their own blood and pounding on it with hammers.”

Regardless of what anyone’s personal feelings about national defense may be, I can palpably feel how deeply these women believed in what they were doing. How they said, like Peter and the other apostles, “We must obey God rather than human beings!” How strongly theses nuns felt that these deadly nuclear bombs killed innocent civilians as well as opposition soldiers. Not just “collateral damage,” but individuals. Women, children, seniors, clergy, medical personnel. All creations of God, and all much loved by God. Just like all of us. Each one of us.

Did you hear? “We must obey God rather than human beings!” That’s how Peter and the other disciples responded to the Sanhedrin! That was their answer, and then they kept on preaching! They kept on spreading the Word of God!

The Jewish leaders desperately wanted to get these disrupters out of the way. But the public response and reaction to the outspoken disciples and their preaching—plus their very public miracles!—was overwhelming! The guards knew it very well, and they didn’t want to get hurt, or even stoned! Popular opinion? Very much in the disciples’ favor.

Looking at the present day, what is our situation? If we were to stand before a modern-day group of civic leaders, if we were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict us?

Are we telling people about the Risen Jesus? Are we witnessing to His mighty power? Are we telling people of Jesus’ awesome, affirming, welcoming acceptance? Do we let people know about Jesus’ all-inclusive love?

We can see, again and again in the Gospels, Jesus loves everyone! The loose-living Samaritan woman at the well. Nicodemus, member of the Sanhedrin. The thief on the cross. The chronically unclean woman with the flow of blood. That chiseling, tax collector-turncoat Zaccheus. I think that message of unconditional love and acceptance, told to each and every person the disciples met, changed people’s lives. Changed people’s hearts.

I ask again—what about you, and what about me? If we were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict us? Yes, we answer to God. And, yes, we offer each person Jesus Christ. His loving, welcoming embrace is ready, today! Are you? His life-changing message is here and now. Do you offer it freely, to everyone you meet?

God willing, I can. God willing, you can, too! Let us pray for the power, for the openness, for the willingness to share God’s good news. The Risen Jesus loves you. The Risen Jesus loves me. And He is ready to welcome all those who would come to the Family of God. In Jesus’ blessed, powerful name we pray, Amen!

@chaplaineliza

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

 

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We Cannot Keep from Speaking!

“We Cannot Keep from Speaking!”

Peter - cannot stop Acts-4-20_2

Acts 4:1-20 – June 21, 2015

Ever had this situation happen to you? Just when you thought you had taken care of some pesky problem, here it comes, all over again! Sort of like the carnival game Whack-a-Mole. Just when you whack at all the moles, and think that they are all gone—that your problems are all solved—here they come again! Popping up all over the place.

I suspect the ruling council in Jerusalem felt this way just about now. Here they had rid themselves of that troublesome Rabbi Yeshua, or Jesus, some weeks ago. They had even gone to their Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, to get his permission to put this upstart Rabbi to death. They got some people to accuse Jesus of insurrection and treason, so He would be killed by crucifixion. That was it! Done! One great, big, pesky problem taken care of!

True, there were some rumors about Jesus coming back to life a few days later, but that was just a rumor. Resurrection? Hah! Sounds pretty far-fetched to me. It was far-fetched to the ruling council, to the Sanhedrin, too.

They didn’t figure on Peter, John, and the rest of the disciples. They didn’t figure on the blowing of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, or the energy of the new believers in the Risen Jesus.

Our summer sermon series, Postcards from the Early Church, reminds me a bit of a radio serial. You might remember those! “When last we left our intrepid heroes . . . “ Last week, we saw Peter and John about to enter the Temple in Jerusalem for daily afternoon prayers. A long-time beggar, lame from birth, asked Peter and John for alms—for money. Peter made that extraordinary statement to the lame beggar: “Silver and gold I have none, but what I have I give to you. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, stand up and walk!”

As I mentioned in my sermon last week, Peter suits the words to his action. He leans forward, grasps the lame man’s right hand, and raises him to his feet.

What happens next? “Immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.” Whatever congenital defect there was in his feet and ankles was immediately, miraculously healed. The ex-lame-beggar could walk. And not only totter around, but leap in the air! He praised God right there inside the Temple, giving immediate public testimony to God’s mighty power!

This was a big problem for the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, believe me! Just when they thought that pesky Rabbi Jesus was all gone, permanently taken care of, they have even more miracle-workers on their hands. The disciples, the friends who had been with Jesus.

The Sanhedrin—the Jewish leaders—quickly grabbed Peter and John, and threw them into prison. Right after this marvelous miracle! I am sure the bystanders were asking, “What gives? These men did a miracle! Why are you arresting them?”

But—are we surprised? Looking at the Hebrew Scriptures, many of the miracle-working prophets were misunderstood, mistreated, imprisoned. Exiled, and even put to death, sometimes.

The Jewish leaders needed to get on this miracle stuff right away. Try to hush it up. See whether they could sweep the whole business under the rug. But—there was a problem. This was a very public miracle, done in downtown Jerusalem, at the height of rush hour. Or, the equivalent. Afternoon prayer time at the Temple in the city center.

We see from this reading today that the leaders had Peter and John thrown into prison overnight. For working a miracle! For doing what God had called them to do!

This makes me think of the Civil Rights movement and marches of the 1950’s and 1960’s. A friend of mine, Ken, (a recently retired seminary professor) marched alongside of African-American activists. A good friend of this church, Pastor Gordon, attended several marches in the South during the 1960’s. It was a tense, even dangerous time. Both my friends were jailed in the aftermath of the marches. Both are proud to say that they were imprisoned for standing up for a Godly cause.

Back in Jerusalem, the day after the miracle occurred, Peter and John were hauled out of prison and brought in front of the Sanhedrin. The ex-lame-beggar was there, too! The Jewish leaders could not deny that this man—who everyone knew as lame from birth—now had full use of his fully-restored feet and ankles. The news of the miracle was traveling around Jerusalem like wildfire! The leaders knew they had to let Peter and John go free.

But Peter wasn’t done yet! Just like the carnival game Whack-a-Mole, where the Sanhedrin desperately wanted to make all those pesky miracle-working moles go away, Peter kept on popping up. And, he spoke to the learned Jewish leaders and teachers, too.

Peter quoted from Psalm 118 in his defense of the miracle he and John had done. He said to the Sanhedrin, “by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this name this man stands here before you in good health. 11 He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”

Talk about in your face! Peter had a lot of guts, speaking to the ruling leaders of his country like that!

As commentator Scott Hoezee brings out, “the Spirit led them to a lowly little textual nugget embedded deep inside one of the lesser known of all the psalms and prompted Peter to use that little verse as the perfect summary of what God’s ways are all about.” This idea is something that Peter repeats again and again. The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone of the building. The most important part of the whole structure. “That’s my Rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth. Oh, and by the way? You Jewish leaders crucified Him!” (That’s guts.)

By Peter quoting this psalm, he reminded these leaders of an unpleasant confrontation between Jesus and the Jewish leaders, shortly before His death. I appreciate another commentator’s words: “It was to say, in effect, “Jesus told you so.” How this citation must have stung in the ears of the Sanhedrin. The One they thought they had rid themselves of was still speaking to them, through the apostles.” The Jewish leaders didn’t have just one pesky problem any longer. The problem had multiplied.

Oh, my goodness. The Sanhedrin tries to tell Peter and John and the rest to shut up. To keep quiet about this Jesus person!

But it does just as much good as attempting to hold back the wild waves of the ocean. In other words, it doesn’t work at all. There is far too much power, far too much momentum behind that crashing ocean wave of testimony.

Despite the stern orders to “pipe down! Sit down and shut up!” Peter and John refuse. Their response? “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; 20 for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

What about us? Are we eager to tell people about what we have seen or heard? What about the mighty deeds we have experienced? Or, perhaps you haven’t had God do anything extraordinary in your life lately. Can you tell people about how God has been faithful? God has continued to walk with you, each and every day. I encourage you to tell someone! Amen!

Praise God, each of us can talk about something God has done—for each of us. God has given each of us a new day, each and every day. Praise God! That is truly something to praise and thank God about. Can we all say Amen? Amen! And again! Amen!

@chaplaineliza

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

What I Have I Give You

“What I Have I Give You”

Peter healing lame man - Acts 3-6

Acts 3:1-10 – June 14, 2015

Expectations! When people expect some situation to turn out a particular way, anything else is a big upset, or even a huge disappointment. Perhaps the expectation is negative; sometimes, a different outcome is not expected. Expectations about work, or about family. Did we expect the Blackhawks to win another game in the Stanley Cup series last night?

Let’s not go off on a tangent—though discussing hockey is tempting. Back to the book of Acts. We continue this summer sermon series with a miracle recorded for us in Chapter 3 of the book of Acts. Dr. Luke—a medical man—gives us lots of detail and description. This healing miracle comes right out of the Acts photo album. Showing memorable photos, distinctive times to remember. Or, if not the most wonderful times, at least the most significant times.

Not long after Pentecost and its immediate aftermath, right after the great big revival meeting in the city of Jerusalem, Dr. Luke focuses on Peter and John going to daily prayers at the Temple. He even mentions the time: it’s 3:00 in the afternoon.

But Dr. Luke’s attention doesn’t stay on Peter and John. Instead, he wants us to change our focus and take a closer look at the lame man they encountered. Again, Dr. Luke gets specific and gives us some detailed information about this man. Verse 2 tells us “A man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple.” Important information. We get a snapshot of what this lame man’s life must have been like. Even though the term is not politically correct now, he was crippled. And, he begged. Day after day, every single day.

I have a question for all of us, today. How many here have had physical therapy? Or, if not you specifically, has anyone in your family had physical or occupational therapy? The therapists today are just wonderful. They know how to instruct patients in specific exercises to improve movement, and increase range of motion. And, after patients have completed their physical therapy, they almost always experience fantastic rehabilitation!

How different would this man’s life have been, if he had been born in America, in the 20th century! With all of the medical advances in the past few decades, I suspect he would have had a much more mobile, worthwhile life than just being a beggar.

I’d like us to think hard about this man with a congenital defect in his feet and ankles. Either lying on a mat, or perhaps sitting by one of the gates of the Temple in Jerusalem. He is called “a beggar” by Dr. Luke. What do you think were his expectations in life? Pretty low, I suspect. Perhaps all he hoped for was a good take, a sizable number of donations. Maybe a decent meal when he got home to his mother or sister. But not a lot else. He couldn’t even stand up, not even for a second.

Imagine his perspective. Ignored by almost everyone. Always close to the ground physically, not to mention his sense of low self-esteem. Not able to look people in the eye, or carry on a relatively normal conversation. I feel extremely sad about his situation, just thinking about it for this short time! And, we are told this lame man was not quite in position yet, next to the gate. His friends were still in the process of positioning him for his daily task of begging.

In most places in the world today, I am sorry to say, this is a common sight. My friend Cody, another mission connector like my other friend Dan, served overseas in Asia for some years. He speaks of beggars on the streets as a common, sad, depressing matter of course.

On a sermon preparation website, I recently found this heartbreaking description of present-day beggars: “On my two trips to India, I saw a large number of beggars. There were so many beggars there was no way one could respond to all of them. The solution was often not to “see” any of them. But the beggars made this difficult. Those who were mobile would press themselves on you. They would approach your taxi at an intersection, tugging at your sleeve and pleading for help. Those not mobile would call out for charity. The beggars would be aggressive, something like the salesmen as you try to walk through the appliance section at Sears. You would concentrate on not seeing them as they converged on you, and you hurried to get through the section before you were trapped.”

Feeling uncomfortable yet? Feeling like hurrying, rushing by, not even noticing the beggars pulling at your sleeves?

Let’s go back to our beggar, to the man mentioned in Acts 3, starting at verse 4: “When the man saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them.”

What was this man’s expectation? Was it optimistic and positive? Or, pessimistic and downhearted? What did he expect from Peter and John? Alms? Money? A blessing?

How does Peter respond? “Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.”

This wasn’t what this lame man was expecting, at all!

I dare say the beggar was disappointed at the initial response. “Sorry, guy. I don’t have any silver or gold.” Money was what the beggar asked for, day in and day out. Begging was the only thing he knew. Peter and John didn’t have a single cent, by Peter’s own admission.

But let’s hurry up and get to the second half of Peter’s statement: “but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” Peter suits the words to his action. He leans forward, grasps the lame man’s right hand, and raises him to his feet.

What happens next? “Immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.”  (I suspect the man felt strength and health flowing into his withered muscles, joints and tendons.) “Jumping up, the man stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.

I don’t know what kind of congenital defect this ex-lame-beggar had in his feet and ankles, but it was suddenly and immediately gone. The next thing you know, this ex-beggar went into the Temple with Peter and John. Not just entering, but walking, leaping, and praising God! A miracle! Praise God!

Again, this wasn’t what this ex-beggar was expecting, at all! Peter’s miraculous healing went far above and beyond anything this man could imagine! Far beyond anything the man could possibly have expected, too.

A follow-up question is directed toward each of us: what do we expect today? What is our expectation from this sermon? From this worship service? From God, on a daily basis?

God is a God who goes way above and beyond expectation! We can praise God with this ex-beggar because his feet and ankles were miraculously made strong, so long ago. But there are miracles that happen on a regular basis, today. Look at Levi, our growing, developing miracle boy. He is a testament to God’s mighty acts today. Look at my tracheotomy scar. Remind me to tell you the miraculous story behind that. And I am sure each of you can relate similar stories in your lives, or your loved ones’ lives. Expect wonderful things from God!

Yes, we can expect God’s gracious hand in our lives, every day. God reaches down to touch us, to provide for our needs, our lives, and our expectations, too. Praise God! Amen!

 

@chaplaineliza

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

New Life Reality

“New Life Reality”

Acts 2-42 teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, prayers

Acts 2:42-47 – June 7, 2015

Have you ever looked through a photo album, or a scrap book? Showing memorable photos, distinctive times to remember. Hitting the high points of a person’s life, or of a family’s experiences. Or, if not the most wonderful times, at least the most significant times.

That’s what we are going to be looking at, in this summer sermon series. We are going to focus on the book of Acts, and see what vignettes Dr. Luke has for us, in this photo album of the Early Church. We’re starting with the Day of Pentecost, and its immediate aftermath. Right after Peter’s sermon, and the great big revival meeting there in the city of Jerusalem.

When last we left our intrepid heroes—I mean, the disciples—their revival meeting had a tremendous response! The report given here at the end of Acts 2 is that three thousand people came to belief in Jesus as their Messiah, who died on the cross, buried, and risen from the dead. Just as prophesied by the Hebrew Scriptures.

Now what? Sure, this extremely large group of people had their “come to Jesus” moment. The Holy Spirit blew through all of their lives. I do not at all wish to diminish this glorious experience. Dr. Luke records this marvelous “Kodak moment” in each of these individuals’ separate lives. Yes, God reached down, and touched each one.

But, in all seriousness, I repeat—now what? Where do they go from here? The group of believers in the Messiah Yeshua—or, Jesus Christ—went from a couple of dozen to 3000 people. All in one morning!

Wait just a moment: imagine a huge group of people, milling about. Think of a large location, like a high school auditorium, or a large gymnasium, or a festival at the lakefront. Now, imagine yourself plunked down in the middle of that huge crowd. We have a huge group of people who just came to a saving belief in Jesus as their Messiah. Now what? Is there any larger purpose? Any master plan?

Acts doesn’t tell us exactly who came up with this plan, but our passage today does tell us what they did. It’s a systematic listing. Four simple, straight-forward steps.

Verse 42 tells us the new believers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and the prayers.” Four simple steps are the spiritual glue that binds this miscellaneous group—diverse believers from all over creation—together as one cohesive whole.

First, the central activity: they “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” I suspect many of these 3000 people, these new believers, had only heard of Jesus of Nazareth. Some had never heard Jesus’ teachings directly, never mind about seeing His miracles! Why was this aspect so important? Because if these new believers started traipsing after their own ideas, they might go off into flights of fancy. The wild blue yonder. They needed to be grounded in solid teaching, directly from the men and women who learned from Jesus for three years. His disciples, and followers. Then they would know for sure what Jesus did—or did—not teach!

Has anyone here ever watched a plastic television preacher? Or listened to a sketchy evangelist on the radio or on a podcast? How about someone who was preaching the “health, wealth and happiness gospel?” Jesus wants us all to be healthy, wealthy and happy! Look at Job, after the Lord gave him everything back! Look at King David and King Solomon! Fabulously wealthy! All of them had favor with God, and you can, too! Just send the evangelist lots of money, and then you’ll be blessed! Just make sure you walk the straight and narrow, otherwise the Lord will smite you with sickness and poverty! Are you sick? Are your loved ones poor? Then, you’re not sending the preacher enough money! And, you don’t have enough faith!

Hold it! What I just said? False. Not true, at all.

Not the health, wealth and happiness gospel, not sending some huckster preacher or evangelist money in order to get health and prosperity. This is skillful twisting of Scripture passages, and is NOT GOOD AT ALL. This is exactly why it was so important that these new believers had ready access to the apostles, and paid such close attention to the disciples’ teaching. To prevent this kind of false teaching from getting started. It was true in the first century, and is just as true today, too!

Second on the Acts 2 list, fellowship. That means hanging out together! Eating meals together, visiting each others’ homes, going places together. This is closely followed by number three, breaking bread together. In other words, eating together! How many here just hang out together, occasionally? Visit, and be friends together?

Our friends from Love Sharing Congregation, do exactly that! If you come here early on a Sunday morning, before most people from St. Luke’s Church come into the building, you’ll find Love Sharing Congregation meeting together for early worship, and fellowship. They meet together, eat together, and hang out together. Then, again, every Sunday after 12 noon. They meet for worship service, and then eat a meal together. Be together, some more.

What a wonderful way to live out the activities the book of Acts recommends.

Fourth on the list we have “the prayers” mentioned. Not just general, private times of prayer, although the life of Jesus certainly models this for us, if anyone examines His life closely. “The prayers” probably refers to set times of prayer at the Temple. Gathering together regularly for prayer and worship was and is considered to be an important way to join together with others, horizontally, as well as joining with God, vertically.

These four things are activities that this group of brand new believers were involved in, from the get-go, from the very start. And, guess what? Their group continued to grow, and grow some more! Let’s take a special look at verses 46 and 47: “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” This is what their new life together looked like! And, people noticed. They wanted to find out more.

I wonder whether the new believers might have been onto something?

On an online bulletin board, I read earlier this week about a church in Minnesota. This post was written a few years ago. I can’t tell you what the pastor’s name was, since he or she did not leave it. However, the pastor wrote about this awesome example of togetherness: communal living, spending time together, eating together, and hanging out together.

“The most profound example of communal living I see in our world is the work being done in homeless shelters. We often take our Sr. and Jr. High kids to a shelter and bring an evening meal for the shelter’s staff and residents. Individually, we cannot feed them because of the great need but, when we work together and plan together, we have more than enough to provide a good meal for the 70 or 80 residents of the shelter.

“In our church, it has become a badge of honor to insure that we can provided the best food for these folk and we now go to the shelter once a month. The point we make with our church members is that the residents of the shelter deserve our best, so we strive to provide it. Our youth like the work because it is a direct way to put their budding theology to work.”

You all see? Life together. Fellowship. Being friends. Eating and drinking together. Worshipping and praying together. Did I mention being comfortable together? This is “doing church,” at its best. Of course, we are all humans, and disagreements occur. Disappointments happen. But, this passage shows us a snapshot of what our life as a church can be!

Something to shoot for. Something to hope for. Something all of us can strive for. Wouldn’t it be marvelous if people in Morton Grove—Niles—Glenview—Park Ridge—Des Plaines—noticed what was going on here at St. Luke’s Church? The new church in Acts 2 reported “having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” This is what their new life together looked like! People noticed. They wanted to find out more.

Let’s celebrate the power of the Holy Spirit! We have that same power here. Nothing is impossible for the Spirit of God. This is a wonderful reminder of what church is all about.

Can I hear an “amen?” Alleluia, amen!

summer sermon series

@chaplaineliza

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

Born of the Spirit

“Born of the Spirit” – May 31, 2015

Trinity - Holy Spirit

John 3:8

The wind can be really powerful. Has anyone here experienced a really strong wind? I remember the wind blowing so strong that I almost got blown off the highway while I was driving in Michigan. And when walking, I had to really lean into the wind to make any headway at all. We can watch the wind rush the clouds along and whip the trees and leaves. And what about devastating windstorms? Think of the tremendous power of hurricanes and tornados! We see the strong power of wind at work, regularly.

Wind is also a symbol from the Bible—a symbol of the Holy Spirit, in both the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the New Testament. The Holy Spirit is all over our Scripture passage today. We’ll hear our Lord Jesus mention the Holy Spirit in a few minutes, but first let’s set the stage.

Here it is, early in Jesus’ ministry. He had already made a name for Himself, with the marvelous teaching He had done and the wonderful miracles He had performed. A lot of people were talking about Jesus, this itinerant rabbi from Galilee. Even the most important leaders among the Jews, the Pharisees, were talking about Rabbi Jesus. One of the Jewish leaders, a man named Nicodemus, summoned up enough courage one night to sneak over to where Jesus was staying.

Nicodemus wanted to know more about Jesus.

Isn’t that just like some people? Some people know a little bit about Jesus, but they don’t know much. There is a veil across their understanding. This state is not godly; the Bible calls it the natural state of man, or of people. In their natural state, people often do not even consider God at all. They cannot come close to God. So, we often see people in their natural state feeling defeated and frustrated because they have a hole in their lives. There is something missing.

St. Augustine wrote a book centuries ago, an autobiography called The Confessions. He speaks of this emptiness, this void, this God-shaped hole inside of people. Augustine also talked about how it was impossible for anyone to fill up that hole with anything else but God.

People do try. They try to fill that hole with all kinds of things: work, money, education, status, alcohol, drugs, computers, family, exercise, shopping. All these things are ways to fill our lives, and to keep us busy. But—we cannot fill that God-shaped hole all by ourselves. No matter how hard we try.

Let’s go back to Nicodemus, coming to see this itinerant Rabbi Jesus in the middle of the night. Nicodemus is worried, or frightened, or a bit of both. But he does come to Jesus.

Did Nicodemus—a leader and prominent teacher among the Jews—come to have an intellectual, theological discussion with Jesus? Or, was it something else that convinced him to seek out this upstart Rabbi?

We discover he is drawn to Jesus by the wise words Jesus has said, as well as the witness of the mighty signs He has done. In other words, the word and the works of God draw Nicodemus to Jesus. Let me say that again: the word of God and the works of God draw Nicodemus to Jesus.

Early on in the interview—for that is what Nicodemus came to do, have an in depth interview with Rabbi Jesus—Jesus makes a surprising comment—surprising to Nicodemus, anyway. “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus begins to stutter and stammer, and complains that he cannot crawl back inside of his mother to be reborn, can he?

Again and again, the prophets in the Old Testament mention the new birth and the new life from God. This was nothing surprising. As a teacher of the Jews, Nicodemus should have known this teaching. Jesus is patient and answers again in the same vein. He even jokes with Nicodemus—as one of the premier teachers and scholars in Israel, Nicodemus needed some itinerant rabbi to fill him in on the hope of Israel??

Here we are, almost two thousand years after this conversation. Are you and I any further along in belief? Do we understand everything about the Holy Spirit’s work in the typical believer’s life? Or, are we still trying to painstakingly piece together the activity of God? I know I am. I don’t have all the answers, and that’s okay by God.

Many deep, theological books have been written over the centuries to explain the theology of this third chapter of the Gospel of John. But—I don’t want to give you just a hodgepodge of theology. Instead, I want to tell you about Jesus and His response to Nicodemus’ questions. I want to lift up to you the One who was sent to earth by God, His Heavenly Father. I want to point to the One who gave testimony of the power of God through the Holy Spirit.

Just as no one can actually see electricity or the wind in operation, no one can tell us exactly how they work. But, we all can see their effects. In the same way, God works in our lives today in much the same way. God’s hand is not visible. The power of the Holy Spirit is very often invisible—it is sort of like the wind, similar to electricity. We can see the Holy Spirit’s effects. And we can definitely tell how God works in our lives and hearts. We can see people’s lives changed by the mighty power of God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Jesus here is mentioning powerHoly Spirit power. Do you believe it? Can you feel it? Like a gentle breeze, or even a strong wind, blowing through our lives?

Jesus forgives us our sins and wipes out the past. God cleanses us, and strengthens us. The Holy Spirit provides a way for us to be reborn, born from above. The Holy Spirit allows us to enter eternal life as children of God. Do you believe it? Can you feel it? What a wonderful opportunity! Praise God for His everlasting love.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Believe the good news of the Gospel!

Alleluia. Amen.

@chaplaineliza

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